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Should 8-Year-Olds Be Reading Stories That Glorify Rape?

After her 2nd grader was assigned a story that glorifies rape and extols whiteness as the standard for beauty, a mother tackles bias in elementary school literature head on.

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All of this prompted me to ask: What kind of values are likely to be promoted in school materials created by an organization whose board chair works for a rightist think tank?

Exactly the kind my daughter encountered in her Junior Great Book.

We Endorse What We Teach

In purchasing Junior Great Books as supplements for language arts classes, teachers and school leaders surely possess good intentions. They seek to provide students with what is described as engaging content while helping students build up their reading and writing skills.

As schools place greater and greater emphasis on documenting skill-based outcomes, I really do understand how and why a teacher might focus more on what a child writes on a test, rather than the content on which the test is based. I understand how problematic content might slip through, and I believe few, if any, educators would welcome a story like “The Selkie Girl” into an early grades classroom if given the support and time to reflect on it first.

We—parents, educators, school leaders, and educational publishers—possess a collective responsibility to evaluate the character of the content as rigorously as we evaluate children’s “learning outcomes.” We must deliberately create space to reflect, because the material we place before children and thus endorse in our classrooms teaches much more than comprehension skills. The social messages and values children take away from the content—the what of their comprehension—matters.

At my daughter’s school, raising these issues resulted in the text’s immediate removal from classrooms—and a renewed commitment to evaluating the character of our content. A group of our teachers spent their summer taking a fresh look at our curricula, with eyes, ears, and hearts clearly focused on identifying bias and the broader communication of problematic social norms. These are needed steps within our school community, and they are steps other schools may need to undertake as well.
 

Endnotes

  1. Educator Buying Trends: How Teachers Make Buying Decisions, A National Survey, Market Data Retrieval, 2007.
  2. McMurrer, Jennifer. NCLB Year 5: Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era. Center on Education Policy, 2007.
  3. Berlet, Chip. “Into the Mainstream,” Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, Summer 2003.
  4. Benfer, Amy. “Lost Boys,” salon.com/2002/02/05/gender_ed. See also Hoff Sommers, Christina. The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Jennifer Holladay is a writer, consultant, and public school parent/guardian. With her child, she is co-editor of kidsanimalstation.com.