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Of Maus and Krause

Last October, Texas state Rep. Matt Krause issued a watch list of 850 books that he found offensive and requested that Texas school districts ban them from school libraries. As a result of mounting pressure from legislators, a San Antonio school district pulled 414 Krause-disapproved books from school libraries last December. Whether Rep. Krause or his staff read all 850 books is not known. It appears that they arbitrarily choose books based on titles that referenced gender identity, race or sexual orientation.

This past week, a Tennessee school district banned Maus by Art Spiegelman. His Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel illustrates his father’s horrifying experience during the Holocaust. The school board cited profanity, violence and adult themes as the reasons for the ban. At least the school board members read the book, unlike Rep. Krause. These two news stories brought to mind a book banning that I witnessed as a child.

Though I had three siblings, I often felt like an only child growing up. This feeling stemmed from the 12-year age gap between myself and my brother whom I had dethroned as the youngest child. He has never seemed resentful but there was that “lets teach the baby how to swim” incident that is never mentioned. Luckily, my mother rescued me before I drowned. 

While I may have felt like an only child, my parents treated me with the fatigued but caring indifference common to older parents who have a gap baby. My parents were much more passive in their upbringing of me as compared to my siblings who were born just 2 years apart each. The combination of only child and youngest child forged within me a sense of survival and an independent streak.

My independent streak was further influenced by the books that were my constant childhood companions. I learned to read at the same time that my siblings were going through college. Their cast-off college textbooks supplemented the school library books and various novels left behind by my sister. The American and European histories were my favorites. My sister even left her Von Mises economics textbook behind for me to read.

I remember the delight that I felt upon reading a book of Mark Twain’s short stories left behind by my brother. Twain was hilarious especially in his satirical Adam and Eve diaries. Reading him formed the sense of humor that I would require later when my parents transferred me from public to private school.

During the third week of my 6th grade year my father discovered that my public elementary school would begin teaching home economics to boys. Upon confronting the school principal about this early form of gender conditioning, my father was told that the school knew what classes were best for me. This was not what my father wanted to hear, so he exercised his right as a parent and sent me to a private school in Greenville. I ought to have a T-shirt that reads “On the front lines of traditional gender conditioning for 45 years and I still can’t cook.”

It was shortly thereafter that I witnessed firsthand the book banning process. My old elementary school participated in the Scholastic Book Club and I was a frequent buyer of their low-cost paperbacks. During the first week after I changed schools, I finally found familiar territory when my teacher handed out the Scholastic Book Club order form. Then things went awry. 

My new teacher instructed us to take out a pencil and draw a line through the titles of certain books. I was stunned to learn that we could not order the books that we had struck through. Then the inevitable happened. The teacher called out the title of a book that I had already purchased. My hand immediately shot up and I asked why. She replied that the title contained the word “ghost” and that Christian parents did not want their children exposed to ghost stories. I replied that the book was not about a ghost but about a homeless man who was stealing food and had been called a “ghost” by the town’s children. There was no reasoning with her. The black line had been applied.

I realize that the two recent episodes of book banning carried out by conservatives were done so to prevent the exposure of school children to controversial ideas. However, critical race theory, gender identity and sexual orientation are the ideas in play at the moment. Students know this and desperately need help from conservatives to challenge the left’s position on these issues beyond just striking through titles of books.

Banning books never has the desired strategic effect – it just makes martyrs of the ideas that the books contain. Just ask the North Koreans, Maoists, Jihadists, Stalinists, Nazis . . .