A battle currently rages in America for the minds of the most innocent and impressionable among us, our children. The battlefields appear to be elementary school libraries, and the weapon of mass indoctrination appears to be literature. How tragic.
From a public school perspective, the raging debate over books has very little to do with the validity of the causes being portrayed in trendy children’s literature or the messages of humanity being communicated. Who among us would deny that police brutality and excessive force are real concerns? What educated person would claim that race relations in America need no further attention? These are fact-based challenges we face and social burdens we carry as adults. But why would we deliberately expose innocent children to these adult problems?
Should a first grader who dresses up like his SRO on Community Helper Day be exposed to a library book villifying this same community helper as a baton-swinging, minority-hating monster? Would we compose and illustrate a children’s book depicting all clergy as child molesting pedophiles because an extreme minority of priests and pastors molest children? Should we publish kids’ books about arsonists masquerading as firefighters? Does a child really need to know that some firefighters deliberately set the fires they are called to extinguish? I see very little difference between these extreme examples and A Place Inside of Me, the children’s book currently being challenged across America.
Most children are developmentally incapable of reconciling these contrasting images of community helpers. They can’t yet wrestle with the metaphor of one bad apple, much less the idea of a few bad police officers. Typical elementary kids understand “good guys,” and they know about “bad guys.” We shouldn’t expect them to grapple with the fact that these two groups sometimes overlap. Not yet, anyway. Internal battles of cognitive dissonance are better saved for adults with a fully developed frontal cortex.
Children in general will soon enough learn that some cops are bad, some clergy commit heinous acts, and some fireman are arsonists. They don’t need to learn these things in elementary school libraries or classrooms. Kids should spend their innocent years learning about honesty and compassion, about caterpillars and butterflies, about subjects and verbs. This fallen world will creep into their lives soon enough, unfortunately. The job of parents and teachers is to serve as gatekeepers, protecting children from the evils of depravity until we can no longer do so. Educators should love first and teach second, using age-appropriate resources and apolitical literature. Elementary school is the wrong place for politics and the wrong time for exposing innocent children to ugly adult problems. Are we really willing to sit idly while coordinated attempts are made to jade kids and jeopardize their innocence? Our kids need courageous gatekeepers now more than ever.
Just my three cents worth (adjusted for inflation).