The Texas Education Board banned the picture book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? this month because they confused its author, Bill Martin Jr., and Bill Martin, the author of a book called Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.
It's a mistake that could have been corrected with a two-minute google search. One tip off might have been that Bill Martin, Jr. -- who published over 300 books for children -- died approximately six years ago, and Bill Martin the author of Ethical Marxism -- which was published in 2008 -- is alive -- a professor at DePaul University in Chicago. More embarrassing for Texas educators, still, is that Bill Martin Jr. spent the final years of his life in Commerce, Texas, working closely with faculty at Texas A&M University, home to the Bill Martin Jr. Memorial Library, the Bill Martin Jr. Scholarship, and who sponsors the Bill Martin Jr. Memorial Symposium every spring.
Embarrassing gaffs, sure. But what is the real fear here? The spread of Marxism among Texas' early reader population? A threat to capitalism?
Pat Hardy made the motion to ban Brown Bear, Brown Bear, citing that Bill Martin's work for adults contains "very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system."
I can see this being a compelling reason not to include Bill Martin's Ethical Marxism on the curriculum list for elementary school children in Texas -- the more compelling reason being that of reading level -- but Ethical Marxism was not the book under consideration. Brown Bear was.
My question is: Why would the political implications of an author's work for adults be reason to ban his book for children? Was the board afraid that children who enjoyed Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? would decide to then read Bill Martin's complete oeuvre, moving to Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? -- and his other 298 or so books for children -- and then quite naturally onto Ethical Marxism?
A slippery slope, indeed.
If this is the logic, then the Texas Education Board should yank Shel Silverstein for his racy cartoons in Playboy and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, written by Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels. Do they want school children going from E.B. White's Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web to his satirical critique of Freudianism (co-written with James Thurber) called Is Sex Necessary? Or would that fit into someone's definition of abstinence education and be reason to even further champion his work for children?
Before the Texas Education Board recognized that the deceased Bill Martin Jr. wasn't the still breathing Bill Martin, professor at DePaul, did they suspect that Martin was sneaking some of his Marxist ideas into Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? -- trying to poison the minds of Texas school children?
In point of fact, in the text, when Brown Bear is asked what he sees, he answers, "I see a red bird looking at me." Is the red bird a Communist? It's hard to say. Later in the text there's a purple cat. Does the purple cat represent Easter and therefore Christianity? If so, a cat can eat a bird. And there the argument flips.
Was Bill Martin Jr. -- who isn't the author of Ethical Marxism after all -- actually writing an anti-Communist, pro-Christian text? If so, what is the Texas Board of Education waiting for? Get Brown Bear back into the curriculum pronto!
However, personally, I'm still left wondering... who really is Brown Bear?