Texas, Texas, What Do You Censor?

January 28, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the 1950s, there was HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) and Joe McCarthy’s Senate Internal Security Subcommittee keeping us safe from commie ideas. Now there’s the Texas Board of Education. It just blacklisted Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Dallas Morning News story here).

The Board didn’t ban just Brown Bear. They crossed all books by Bill Martin, Jr. off the third grade reading list. Martin wrote dozens of books (partial list here); Brown Bear is easily the best known, certainly by me. I read aloud so often to my kid that I probably have it memorized. Most of the space on the page has illustrations. You can read the text in about a minute, literally. But obviously the Board didn’t bother to do that. Instead, they relied on information that Bill Martin had written also written a book containing “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system.”

It’s an understandable enough mistake. After all, Bill Martin is an unusual name – how many can there be? And lots of authors who write books like Ethical Marxism are known to slip their insidious ideologies about “the categorical imperative of liberation” into children’s books that contain fewer than 50 different words, most of those words being I, you, what, do, and see.*

In the mid-1950s, the CBC broadcast a satire called The Investigator. It was later released as an LP that was distributed in almost samizdat-like underground fashion in the US. The premise was that Sen. McCarthy has been in a plane crash and gone to heaven. There, he teams up with Torquemada and others to root out communism and subversion on high. Their committee questions many people (Voltaire, Jefferson, Socrates, et. al.), and winds up sending them from Up Here to Down There.

McCarthy keeps calling Karl Marx before the committee, and each time he gets the wrong Karl Marx. “Oh no, I am not Karl Marx the writer,” each one says with a German accent “I’m Karl Marx the watchmaker.” Or the baker or whatever. Finally, McCarthy gets so frustrated, he sends all Karl Marxes to Down There.

And now we have the Texas Board of Education – Life imitating Art – sending all Bill Martin, Jr. books Down There.

The real problem is not just ignorance by the Board or its staff. It’s also the centralized structure of the Texas educational system. The Board makes decisions for all schools in the state. The irony here is that conservative Texans complain loudly about “bureaucrats” in Washington making decisions that affect very local issues. They have a point. The same point applies to the Texas Board of Education.

* The book does have five two-syllable words: goldfish, purple, yellow, teacher, and looking. I don’t mean to mess with Texas, but if these Bill Martin, Jr. books are being considered for third grade reading lists, you have to be a bit concerned about the quality of education in the Lone Star State.

Hat Tip: Elizabeth at Underage Reading . Inside Higher Ed also ran this story, apparently under the assumption that in Texas, third-grade reading lists fall into the category of higher ed.

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