Editorial: Fierce Madres, we applaud you

Gun Rights

Thinking of the parents and other relatives of those 19 Uvalde youngsters who were gunned down at Robb Elementary four months ago, along with two of their teachers, it’s hard to imagine how they get up every morning, how they get through the day, how they get on with their lives.

We realize that they likely have other children who need them more than ever. They have jobs. They have obligations. They carry on as best they can.

A number of Uvalde parents have
channeled their anguish into political activism
. They have mustered a dearly won resolve to do what they can to make sure that other parents in this gun-besotted nation don’t have to experience the pain they are enduring. Some admit they’ve never voted, but for the first time ever, they’re lobbying, they’re protesting, they’re speaking out in Austin and Washington. Two are running for local office; another founded a group called
Fierce Madres

Their aim is to persuade Gov. Greg Abbott and other elected officials in Austin and Washington to support sensible gun-safety legislation, including raising the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 from 18 to 21. We applaud their determination and resolve.

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The Uvalde parents aren’t the only Texas parents lobbying, protesting and speaking out these days. In communities large and small across the state, parents are raising objections to books available to their children in classrooms and libraries. From Katy to Leander, Granbury to Llano, Tyler to Victoria, they’re pushing to get books removed from library shelves. Waving the banner of parental rights, they’re primarily targeting books that treat gay and lesbian themes, books they consider too explicit sexually, books that address this nation’s knotty history of racial discord or books they consider unpatriotic.

The Uvalde parents struggle to get the attention of elected officials in thrall to the National Rifle Association — the majority in this state — but the parents concerned about library books are getting results. Thanks to their efforts, Banned Book Week, sponsored by the American Library Association, ended with
Texas leading the nation
. It’s our dubious distinction to ban more books this year than any other state.

We have no doubt that most parents expressing concern about the books available to their children are just as sincere as the grieving Uvalde parents. They want what’s best for their kids. In some instances, the requests to review books in school libraries are legitimate. As Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker put it recently, “I understand wanting to protect a child’s innocence. I also want them to grow up in their own measured time.”

Nevertheless, their effort is misguided. For one thing, it’s not, as it’s often portrayed, a grassroots crusade spurred by a nationwide parental rights movement seeking more control over learning materials. As the Houston Chronicle discovered after a
seven-month-long investigation
, it’s more an Astroturf (fake grassroots) campaign promulgated by partisan groups and organizations whose aim is to get far-right candidates elected. Sincere parents are pawns in the effort.

The book-banning name that most often crops up in Texas is state Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican who came up with a list of roughly 850 books that he found objectionable. He asked school districts last fall to see whether their libraries were offering any of the books on his list, most of which dealt with LGBTQ themes, people of color in main character roles or such topics as racism, the Holocaust, sexual violence, sexuality or abortion. Feeling intimidated by a state official, who also happened to be running for attorney general at the time, many districts responded. Most districts in and around Houston ignored him.

The governor followed Krause’s letter with
a letter of his own
directing the Texas Education Agency to “investigate any criminal activity in our public schools involving the availability of pornography.” TEA opened one investigation in response to the letter, which remains ongoing. The Chronicle
that the agency as of late July was reviewing 23 other complaints.

Similar efforts are taking place around the country, with some success. Teachers and librarians are being threatened. They’re losing their jobs.

“This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs, and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a flourishing democracy,” Suzanne Nossel, chief executive officer of the writers’ group PEN America, said in a statement
quoted by the Texas Tribune

Every parent has the right, indeed the obligation, to monitor what their children read. They don’t have the right to determine what their neighbors’ children read. And they certainly don’t have the right to pressure or intimidate teachers, librarians or school administrators to ban books.

Their efforts suggest gaps in their own reading. They seem unaware of the sordid history of book-banning in this country and elsewhere. However innocuous these efforts are initially, however sincere they might be, they invariably end badly.

Back in Uvalde, newly activist parents have won the support of Mayor Don McLaughlin, the outspoken Republican last seen cursing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke for interrupting an Abbott press conference. County commissioners also have called for strengthening gun-safety laws. Perhaps the parents are heartened by modest gains achieved by the young survivors-turned-activists after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 or the lawsuits filed by Sandy Hook parents that are on the verge, a decade after the shooting that killed 26 people, of holding the odious Alex Jones accountable. No doubt the Uvalde parents realize that they’re in for a long, hard haul. It’s a battle that will require fierce mothers — and fathers.

And the parents with book-banning inclinations? If their crusade forces us to think about our children’s education, if it forces us to question where education stands on our list of priorities, then maybe the debate they have ignited is worth it. The history books our kids may or may not be reading in school remind us that a thriving democracy is invariably messy. Consensus rarely comes easy.

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