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A Texas lawmaker is targeting 850 books that he says could make students feel uneasy

Texas Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, looks over the calendar as law makers rush to finish business, Friday, May 26, 2017, in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay
Texas Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, looks over the calendar as law makers rush to finish business, Friday, May 26, 2017, in Austin, Texas.

A Texas state lawmaker is asking schools statewide to tell him whether they currently hold any of around 850 books on a list he has compiled, explaining that he is targeting materials that "might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex."

The inquiry by state Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican, quickly set off alarm among the books' authors and the state teachers association. The unusual request, which was first reported by the Texas Tribune, also triggered confusion in school districts over how to comply with such a wide-ranging query.

Krause sent a letteron Monday to the Texas Education Agency and superintendents of school districts around the state, asking each official to confirm whether their schools possess any books on his list, along with a detailed accounting of where they are and how much money was spent on them.

The lawmaker did not explain what the next steps might be, but his request mentioned several recent pushes to remove books from libraries and classrooms if they center on issues from transgender identity to critical race theory. He gave the officials until Nov. 12 to reply.

Krause's office was not immediately available for comment.

The list includes an Amnesty International book

Books on Krause's list include titles such as The Great American Whatever, a young adult novel by Tim Federle, and "Pink is a Girl Color" ... and other silly things people say, a children's picture book by Stacy and Erik Drageset.

Nonfiction books are also on the list, from How Prevalent Is Racism in Society?, by Peggy J. Parks, to the Amnesty International title We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures.

The inquiry is a "disturbing and political overreach into the classroom" — and it might be illegal, said Ovidia Molina, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association.

"Nothing in state law ... gives a legislator the authority to conduct this type of witch hunt," Molina said in a statement. She added, "This is an obvious attack on diversity and an attempt to score political points at the expense of our children's education."

Books on the list deal with sexuality, racism and U.S. history

Some of the books on Krause's list explain puberty and reproduction. Others discuss pregnancy and abortion, either from a textbook standpoint or through fiction. At least 11 of the books focus on the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. John Irving's The Cider House Rules, whose main characters include a doctor who performs abortions, is also on the list.

Many of the books discuss race. The list includes An African American and Latinx History of the United States, a well-reviewed title by University of Florida historian Paul Ortiz that seeks to add nuance and accuracy to long-accepted histories of America.

The list also includes Mikki Kendall's Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women That a Movement Forgot — prompting a reply from Kendall.

"I am in great company," Kendall wrote of being on Krause's list. She shares space with two books by Ta-Nehisi Coates; others include William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner.

Other authors are also responding to the inquiry, as the Houston Chronicle reports.

Krause is currently locked in a crowded primary race

Krause made the request through the Texas House's General Investigating Committee, which he chairs. But political observers in Texas note that Krause also has his eye on winning a statewide office. He's one of several Republicans challenging Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is seeking reelection in next March's party primary.

By raising the books issue, Krause is also raising his own profile by making a political statement, University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus told the Tribune.

"He's not well known statewide, and so he needs to put down a pretty tall conservative flag to get notice," Rottinghaus said.

Vice chair of the House committee calls inquiry a waste of time

Krause's letter to school leaders cites the committee's authority to look into any "matter the committee considers necessary for the information of the legislature or for the welfare and protection of state citizens."

But the Democratic vice chair of the panel says the inquiry is a waste of taxpayers' money and educators' time. State Rep. Victoria Neave says it's an attempt to obscure facts and exploit a wedge issue for political gain.

"Republicans are whitewashing our history in an era when communities of color fueled explosive population growth in our diverse state," Neave said via Twitter.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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