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Texas fight for school books

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Today, battle for books in school libraries; changes in school and union leadership; and finding a wife for black Santa Claus.

The battle over how schools should approach the country’s history of racism has turned into a debate over the books on library shelves.

In Texas, after the state passed legislation defining how teachers approach teaching about race and gender, Republican politicians focused on books.

Last month Governor Greg Abbott education officials headed to “investigate any criminal activity in our public schools involving the availability of pornography.” A representative of the Republican state also sent the superintendents a 850 book list, asking if they were in libraries or school classrooms.

The list was a mix of half-century-old novels – including “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron – and works by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Margaret Atwood, as well as daring young adult books on the subject. gender identity.

The list is just an example. This fall, a talk by an award-winning writer has been cancelled. The first black director of a Dallas suburb has resigned, accused of sanctioning the teaching of critical race theory.

This month, a district in San Antonio ordered 400 books removed from its shelves for a review. And the National Education Agency opened an investigation in a district in North Texas to find out if it had given students books with “sexually explicit content. “

In the absence of any state law, some librarians have been ordered to remove books as a precautionary measure.

“Wait a minute, they’re talking about critical breed theory,” said Carrie Damon, a college librarian. “Suddenly I hear the librarians indoctrinating the students. “

My colleague Michael Powell reported that teachers almost slap each other in frustration.

Some particularly pointed out the clause in state law that says a teacher should not instill the idea that students should feel “responsible, blamed or guilty” because of their race or gender. State Representative Matt Krause went further, suggesting that a teacher could override simply by attributing a book that troubles a student.

To teach Shakespeare and Toni Morrison, to read Gabriel García Márquez or Frederick Douglass, teachers told Michael, is to stir up waves of emotions, from which can arise introspection and self-recognition, sorrow and joy. .

The challenge is no different for a social studies professor who talks about Cherokee dying along the Trail of Tears or white gangs lynching blacks and Mexicans.

“I have had children triggered by difficult texts,” said Ayn Nys, an English teacher. “It is our responsibility to prepare students emotionally and intellectually with a diversity of voices. “

Fighting over books is nothing new, especially not in Texas.

A flash point: the Alamo. People of Mexican and indigenous descent have long tried to complicate an ingrained state narrative of the battle. This year, the Republican Lieutenant Governor pressured a museum to cancel a panel to discuss a revisionist book – “Forget the Alamo” – examining its slave fighters.

Another argument: Project 1619. Now a book, the special issue of the New York Times Magazine attempted to place black Americans and the consequences of slavery at the center of the American narrative. The law qualifies it as prohibited.

Texas law does not mention critical race theory. But it forbids teachers to portray slavery and racism as “anything other than deviations, betrayals, or failures to abide by the genuine founding principles of the United States.”

This conflicts with the views of many scholars – including many writings in The 1619 Project – who note that since the founding of America, slavery has been woven into the fabric of the nation and the Constitution. .

“Education is not above the fray; it’s the melee, ”said Robert Pondiscio, a former teacher and senior researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy group. “It’s naive to think otherwise.”

As the first semester of a pandemic third school year draws to a close, many teachers and parents across the state are wondering: How does this end?

“OK, you ban a book – does that ban the topic? Kathleen Harrison, another teacher, said, shaking her head. “When do I practice subversion?” “

Chicago has a new school general manager. New York and Los Angeles will soon have a new direction. And Becky Pringle, who became president of the National Education Association last year, helps shape education policy. Here, a tour through this changing of the guard.

Becky Pringle: Under President Biden, teachers’ unions reappeared as powerful players in shaping federal education policy. The NEA, in particular, has benefited from increased visibility: Jill Biden, the first lady and longtime educator, is a member.

But the union has come under fire for its inordinate power – both in the Biden administration and over decisions to reopen schools during the pandemic.

Pringle defended his union by a tweet: “It’s no secret that we want to ensure the safety of our students and our schools. And it also delves into the racial calculus that takes place in public schools. To find out more, here is a profile of my colleague Erica Green.

David Banks: New York’s next chancellor of schools will arguably hold America’s second most influential education post, after the Federal Secretary of Education.

Banks, founder of the Eagle Academy for Young Men and close friend and key adviser to new mayor Eric Adams, is leading sweeping changes for the sprawling and besieged system: he said his top priorities would include expanding options early childhood education, improve career paths for older students and tackle student trauma.

“The very fabric of how we actually measure our children and measure the progress of our schools is fundamentally flawed,” he said. “That’s not to say the test results don’t mean anything; they do. They don’t mean everything. Here is a profile, by my colleague Eliza Shapiro.

Alberto Carvalho: In 2018, he publicly rejected New York City and chose to remain the head of Miami-Dade County public schools. But Carvalho is now heading west – to be the next superintendent of public schools in Los Angeles, the second largest district in the United States.

The Los Angeles Times writes that Carvalho brings “a reputation for stability and improved student achievement.” Los Angeles faces “sharply declining registrations and one long-term structural deficit. “

Carvalho spoke of the urgency to tackle “the unprecedented loss of learning and unfinished learning in the wake of this pandemic which has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable among us – students of color, college students poorly learning English and students with disabilities “. Here is the profile of the LA Times.

Nancy Redd’s mother used brown markers, crayons and colored pencils to turn their Christmas decorations “into mirror images of our own family.”

“For me, it wasn’t black Santa Claus,” Nancy writes in a touching essay. “He was just Santa Claus, no adjective required.”

Now Nancy is a mom. But most Santas in the mainstream media are still white. “The dearth of dark-skinned Santa Claus was personal, as if my family’s image was being snubbed,” Nancy writes.

So she spent hours online, ordering personalized letters from Black Santa Claus or searching for homemade ornaments. She searched the city for a black Santa Claus for pictures. Earlier this year, she published a picture book – “The real Santa Claus. “This is one of at least three published this year with non-white Santas.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next week!

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