DALLAS -- Texans don't trust the state's elected officials to decide which controversial books should be removed from public schools, according to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.
While some of the state's Republican leaders recently have thrown themselves into the school library culture war, the poll indicates much of the electorate is skeptical about this kind of interference in education. The Morning News and UT-Tyler polled 1,106 registered voters between Nov. 9-16.
Asked whether they had faith in elected officials' judgment in identifying which books should be removed, 35% of poll respondents said they have no confidence while another 31% said "not too much." Less than 10% of people who took the poll said they trusted state leaders' judgment on books "a great deal."
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
Heather Zana, the parent of two high school students, said such decisions shouldn't fall to elected officials who may or may not have children in school.
"I'm of the opinion that a library should have some things that are controversial," said Zana, a 49-year-old living in Williamson County. "People need to learn how to think, and think through things they may not have considered before, and look at new and different viewpoints."
Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott directed Texas education officials to investigate whether pornography is available in public schools and to notify law enforcement if it is accessible to children, though he did not define what he considers pornography to be.
Abbott's move escalated an already simmering political backlash against books that delve into issues of race, gender and sexuality. The Texas Education Agency, State Board of Education and Texas' library and archives commission are working to develop standards to prevent the presence of "pornography and other obscene content" in schools, at the governor's request.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Forth Republican, recently launched a House investigation into what's in school libraries, sending district officials a list of more than 800 books ranging from the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Confessions of Nat Turner" to puberty guides like "Everything You Need to Know about Going to the Gynecologist."
Krause also requested that school officials find any other curriculum or books that contain subject matter addressing sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases or any material that "might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress" because of their race or sex.
Krause said in an interview that a book's presence on his extensive list doesn't necessarily mean the title is problematic. But, he said, it's possible that the books could chafe against new state laws.
The Texas Legislature recently passed a vague new set of bills -- ostensibly to keep "critical race theory" out of the classroom -- that restrict how teachers can discuss certain historical topics and current events.
Critical race theory is an academic framework taught in higher education that probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism. It has become a favorite target of conservatives, as right-wing pundits have conflated it with a wide host of schools' diversity and inclusion efforts.
Critics -- including former President Donald Trump -- have also zeroed in on The New York Times' award-winning "1619 Project," a series of essays seeking to reframe American history around slavery's lingering consequences and the contributions of Black people.
The work is explicitly called out in Texas' new legislation.
George Altevogt, 44, said it's nonsense that people are afforded different privileges based on their skin color.
"I don't understand this concept of critical race theory. I don't understand the 1619 Project," said Altevogt, who is white and lives in Denton County. "I don't understand why individuals on the left side of the aisle want to promote divisiveness between people, and they're doing it with children."
More than a third of poll respondents said they strongly agree that teachers should be permitted to discuss how historical examples of discrimination in laws apply to inequalities today, compared to only 15% who strongly disagree. Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to feel this way, as were parents.
Fifty-nine percent of Black respondents strongly agreed, compared to 40% of Latinos and 29% of white people who took the poll.
Aaron Thibodeaux, who is Black, said it's important to understand the context of why things are the way they are in this country, such as why so many Fortune 500 companies are led by white men.
"In America, we try to hide our own dirty laundry. You don't want history to repeat itself," said Thibodeaux, the father of two young kids in Houston.
A racial divide was also apparent on the question of which party voters trust more on education issues. Nearly two-thirds of white poll respondents said they trust Republicans more while Black people (81%) and Latinos (60%) sided with Democrats.
ABOUT THE POLL
The Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler Poll is a statewide random sample of 1,106 registered voters conducted Nov. 9-16. The mixed-mode sample includes 244 registered voters surveyed over the phone by the University of Texas at Tyler with support from ReconMR and 866 registered voters randomly selected from Dynata's panel of online respondents. The margin of error for a sample of 1,106 registered voters in Texas is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points, and the more conservative margin of sampling error that includes design effects from this poll is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points for a 95% confidence interval.
The online and phone surveys were conducted in English and Spanish. Using information from the 2020 Current Population Survey and Office of the Texas Secretary of State. The sample's gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, metropolitan density and vote choice were matched to the population of registered voters in Texas.
©2021 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.