How did 400 Katy ISD parents delete a book? Accusations of Marxism and ‘critical race theory’.

The woman who launched a successful petition this week to cancel a speaking engagement with an acclaimed black author in Katy ISD says she did it because she believes his work promotes “critical race theory and Marxism.”

“It’s not that I don’t like the books,” Bonnie Anderson said Tuesday. “I’ve reviewed all the books and all the interviews (by author Jerry Craft) and he discusses micro-aggression, a racial term coined by the conceptual founders of critical race theory. That let me know the ideology of these books.”

Craft’s award-winning books have since been withdrawn from all district libraries and curricula, while the district is reviewing whether they will still be allowed. Anderson, a former Katy ISD Board of Trustees candidate who sued the district for his mask mandate last spring, said she’s not necessarily opposed to Craft’s graphic novels being available in the district’s middle and high school libraries.

“I’m still undecided on that,” she said. “I don’t think it would be helpful for elementary school kids to read this.”

Attempts to reach Craft Tuesday were unsuccessful. The author has not yet made a public statement about the canceled event, but he shared statements from others on Twitter expressing disdain for the decision.

Anderson said she believes the critical race theory is “about Marxism and not about race because it creates the idea of ​​an oppressor and the oppressed.”

The district’s swift response to Anderson’s now-deleted Change.org petition has sparked criticism from students and racial justice advocates who claim the concerns came from a relatively small number of people in the 88,000 student district. Anderson’s petition gathered about 400 signatures.

A statement from the district on Monday said any parent can challenge a library book and it will result in the book being pulled for review.

“It sounds like (the district) never wanted him (to speak) in the first place and they don’t want change,” said Habikia Eney, a 12th grader at Katy ISD’s Cinco Ranch High School. “If you’re going to say things like ‘we’re inclusive’ and then not let someone who is trying to bring racial awareness to schools speak, it looks very contradictory.”

Eney said she talks to many of her black peers about feeling isolated and misunderstood in the school district. She said she wishes books like Craft’s Year 6 graphic novels were available to her when she was younger so that she could be exposed to more experiences that reflect her own experiences and to better understand how to cope. with the pressure of often being the only black in her class.

About 11 percent of Katy ISD’s students are black, according to data from the Texas Education Agency. About 33 percent are white, 35 percent are Latino, and an estimated 16 percent are Asian.

Brandon Mack, lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Houston, said Craft’s books do not contain so-called critical race theory.

“Critical race theory is not automatically taught when you try to discuss racism or the black experience,” he said.

The term critical race theory was first coined 40 years ago as an academic concept taught in law schools that racism is systematically entrenched in society. It has been blown up nationwide for the past two years and some on the right are arguing that it is being taught in schools to demonize white people.

In June, Governor Greg Abbott signed a controversial bill banning the teaching of critical race theory in Texas public schools. Supporters of House Bill 3979 argued it keeps “politics” out of schools, while those who oppose it say it condones what students are taught about slavery and discrimination.

“Katy ISD doesn’t give our students the ability to see themselves in the literature and inherently know that their lives matter,” Mack said. “This sends the message that learning about the Black experience is somehow dangerous.”

Anderson’s petition also cited concerns about the books promoting “reverse racism.”

“First of all, racism requires there to be power and privilege, so there can’t be reverse racism,” Mack said. “In any case, the person who drafted this petition has used their white privilege to use the structure of the school system to avoid presenting the black experience.”

This isn’t the first time the withdrawal of a book in Katy ISD has raised concerns about its libraries, including representations of the Black experience in America.

In November 2017, the district came under fire for temporarily removing “The Hate U Give” from its libraries. School officials said at the time that the book, which deals with racism and police brutality, was temporarily removed after a parent complained about the language during a board meeting. The book was allowed to return to the district high school libraries, but parental permission was required for students to read it.

Under Katy ISD’s official policy on challenging educational materials, the district has considerable discretion in deciding which books are in its school libraries, but notes that the district must make those decisions consistent with the First Amendment.

“The student’s First Amendment rights are implied by the removal of books from the shelves of a school library,” the policy reads. “A district may not remove material from a library with the aim of denying students access to ideas that the district does not agree with.”

The policy goes on to say that books can be removed because they are “thoroughly vulgar or based solely on the educational appropriateness of the books in question.”

Craft’s 2019 graphic novel New Kid is about a 7th grader who loves to draw cartoons and enrolls in a private school, where he is one of the few children of color, according to the description of the book’s author. The main character struggles to feel like he can fit in and navigate a new school culture.

The second in the series, Class Act, published in October 2020, follows the main character to 8th grade, where he doesn’t get the same opportunities as his privileged classmates. The story follows the high school student as he tries to find a way to bridge the gap between him and his friends.

New Kid won a 2020 John Newbery Medal for Most Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature, the Coretta Scott King Prize for Outstanding Work by an African American Writer, and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers’ Literature.

Brown Bookshelf, an online resource promoting awareness of black children’s book makers, made a statement on social media last week in support of Craft and his work, noting that the petitions surfaced during Banned Books Week, which took place from 26 September through October. 2 and is organized by an international alliance to raise awareness of book censorship.

Mack said the event cancellation and the revision of the books should not be taken lightly.

“People need to understand that this is not a small problem,” he said. “It sends a message to black students that their lives don’t matter and it sends a message to white students that it’s okay to devalue people who are not like them.”

Claire Goodman contributed to this report.

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