Banning Bill Martin, Jr.

January 26th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  12 Comments

9780805059670This one made the rounds quickly this morning: the Texas State Board of Education banned Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?, written by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle, because Martin has the same name as an academic who once wrote about Marxism. One of my old colleagues at Time sent the story around, and then blogger the Zero Boss posted his reaction, which was about the same as mine. Namely, the board of education is running its libraries like the TSA runs its no-fly list–all zeal, paranoia and utter incompetence. Here’s how the decision went down, according to the original story:

Hardy said she was trusting the research of another board member, Terri Leo, R-Spring, when she made her motion and comments about Martin’s writing. Leo had sent her an e-mail alerting her to Bill Martin Jr.’s listing on the Web site as the author of Ethical Marxism. Leo’s note also said she hadn’t read the book.

“She said that that was what he wrote, and I said: ‘ … It’s a good enough reason for me to get rid of someone,’ ” said Hardy, who has complained vehemently about the volume of names being added to the curriculum standards.

This is an inviting story on a few fronts. Everyone likes to mock Texas (though in fairness I’d expect this kind of thing more from my home state). Also, the fact that this poorly researched decision came from the board of education is delightful: The board is clearly made up of Texas’ goodest teechers.

Although, who the hell knows? They do sell the book in Russia. And some godless Russian mommyblog even suggests a lesson plan with the book, for mercy’s sake.

But I’ll leave the Zero Blogger the last word, since he summed up, far better than the Dallas Morning News ever would, why this is disturbing:

Martin Jr. was explicitly excluded because the Board believed he championed ideas inimical to capitalism. Not in his children’s books, mind you, but… over there, on some other bookshelf.  Shoddy research aside, how frightening is that as a standard? Does this mean that students in Texas can’t readAnimal Farm because George Orwell was a socialist? That they can’t analyze the poetry of the Fascist Ezra Pound? Can’t paint in the Commie style of Frida Kahlo? Apparently, considering authors and artists on their merits is too taxing for the Texas SBoE, which is more concerned with whittling down a “volume of names” than educating its students.

The next time a conservative decries “political correctness,” point to this story. Censorship isn’t an ideology, but the attitude of a narrow mind.


  1. Keith Wilcox says:

    January 26th, 2010at 4:42 pm(#)

    He seriously used the word “inimical”? Someone’s trying a little too hard :-)

    But, I agree completely with what he, and you, are saying. Talk about a poorly researched edict! Pathetic. You’re also right in that Texas get’s a bad rap for these things, but it’s just as likely to happen in most other states as well, which is sorta sad.

  2. Tim says:

    January 26th, 2010at 4:43 pm(#)

    I think you’re lost in the weeds here. The scary thing is that the Texas Board of Education is ridiculously politicized. Made up of some of the most ignorant politically motivated people you could imagine, and thanks to California’s budget woes is set to create the textbook standard for pretty much the entire US thanks to their buying power.

    Read that last bit again. You might consider supporting an opposition candidate in Texas.

    There a lot of people on all sides of the political spectrum trying to fight these people in Texas, but they have a massive amount of money on their side. And their arguments are so stupid that the teachers on the board seem to often just get too frustrated to argue with them.

  3. stonerdad says:

    January 26th, 2010at 6:21 pm(#)

    good. i hate this book, as well as the “rollicking followup” “polar bear, polar bear, what do you hear?” I wish i could ban them both in our house!

    you guys should post a list of books you like, because i bet x and i would like them too!


  4. Matt says:

    January 27th, 2010at 10:36 am(#)

    It is a really, really boring book. In fact, it’s probably the only book in existence that would be spiced up by the addition of some Marxist rhetoric.

  5. colleague at time says:

    January 27th, 2010at 1:13 pm(#)

    I’ll take either of these over Good Night Moon any time. No story arc. And the characters don’t feel sufficiently inhabited, IMHO. Especially the mittens. Plus it only sort of rhymes.

  6. stonerdad says:

    January 27th, 2010at 2:47 pm(#)

    come to think of it, a Marxist kid book could be just the ticket:

    “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,
    How is it that you were born free
    Yet everywhere you are in chains?

    It’s because of the Capitalist Running Dog
    profiting from my labor!

    Capitalist Running Dog, Capitalist Running Dog,
    How is it that you have managed to achieve nominal control over the means of production?

    I’m helped by the Bourgeois Bunny,
    who lives off your surplus value and has a stake in maintaining your servitude!”


  7. Nathan says:

    January 27th, 2010at 5:12 pm(#)

    @Stonerdad, I think you’ve got a potential franchise on your hands. North Korea, Cuba, parts of Venezuela: just imagine all the markets you could break into. For the rest of you hating on the Brown Bear books, I have no idea what the words of the book actually say. My son just chews on it. It’s a boardbook, right, a big fricking chewtoy is all, which makes its banning on ideological grounds even more bogus.

  8. stonerdad says:

    January 27th, 2010at 7:52 pm(#)


    you forgot Berkeley. it would be a runaway hit.

    and as for being “just a board book” — it seems like it’s only a harmless toy until the kid starts to get a clue, and then starts demanding that you read it over and over and over again. my advice to you is to chuck it before the little one realizes there’s more to it than its culinary aspects.

  9. Carly says:

    January 27th, 2010at 9:52 pm(#)

    god save godless brown bear and his polar and panda cousins, for they are quickly read and not endless as the interminable roads of Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. please, texas, in your wisdom, take instead richard scarry from the home libraries of our tired, tongue-tied, tired country! rid us of goldbug, that hidden insurrectionist, and all his impossible Cuban bananamobiles!

  10. Nathan says:

    January 28th, 2010at 11:01 am(#)

    @carly, @stonerdad – If you haven’t seen this already, check out the video from the fantastic Greg Allen over at DaddyTypes. He weighed in yesterday on Brown Bear’s communist meanings, using his kid as a prop. Gotta love that:

  11. Bill Martin says:

    January 30th, 2010at 9:29 pm(#)

    Hi, I was just looking around at various versions of this story, it’s been a fun week with my fifteen seconds of fame, kind of a case study on critical thought in time of celebrity. I enjoyed this version of the story very much, especially where the question of the standards applied by the Texas BOE was raised (though one imagines it’s not so different anywhere else), and Stonerdad’s brilliant Marxist revisioning of Brown Bear.

    Bill Martin, author of Ethical Marxism and other critiques of capitalism and the “American system”


    Q&A with Bill Martin, not the author of 'Brown Bear, Brown Bear' | DADWAGON

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