Anti-Bullying and Censorship: That’ll Teach Them

I usually have some idea about the day’s blog post in advance—stop laughing—but this morning, I had nothing in mind except a vague essay on why I should really think about eating breakfast before I’m ensconced in my cubicle and the only options are sugar-free peppermint gum and diet Pepsi.*

But I’ve winged it before—breakfast and blog—so I trusted that a post would present itself sometime during the day.

I really need to stop tempting the universe like this.

Because the first thing I saw when I opened the paper for processing was an article about the Erie Elementary School.

And now I am furious.

Seems that they have an Anti-Bullying Collection at this school, which is a terrific idea.  Except, well, some of the parents don’t think some of this collection is appropriate.

While I’m anti-censorship, I am in favor of age- and level-appropriate materials, so I decided to hold off on my automatic reaction and read on.

The unacceptable materials?

The Family Book by Todd Parr, who has made a name for himself telling everyone that they are okay no matter what and he means you, too.  Because there’s one sentence in there that says that some families have two daddies or two mommies.

One.  Sentence.

And, knowing Mr. Parr’s style, perhaps a thick-lined drawing of two figures in skirts holding hands and two similar figures in pants holding hands.**

God help us.

What’s  even worse, in the eyes of these parents, are that some of the materials in the Anti-Bullying Collection came from . . . wait for it . . . the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network.  There’s no mention of what the materials contain in any of the articles I’ve read, but as we all know, cooties are a big concern at the Elementary School level and there might be a stamp on it somewhere that says Gay or Lesbian on it.  And what if the children ask questions?

Now, this . . . stupidity. . . happens all the time, every damn day, so at this point, I wasn’t so much surprised as saddened.

And then I read on.

A committee was formed to study the matter and the Board held a public session to discuss the matter, which is all good practice.  Usually, with something this ridiculous, the committee recommends that the materials stay and the Board follows the committee recommendations, the vocal few bluster about how the world is traveling at light speed in a handbasket and it all dies down.

In Erie, the Board listened to the vocal few and removed the materials before—or so I’m told—most of the community knew anything had been challenged in the first place.

Funny Animal Captions - Animal Capshunz: Even Lions Have These Moments

But my real problem with this isn’t how certain people are still battling the Big Bad Gay Boogieman with the Shield of Willful Ignorance and the Lance of Woefully Uninformed Panic.

It’s that once again, two very different actions are being confused:

Teaching elementary school children that we must be nice to everyone and not hurt anyone

and

Promoting and endorsing explicit sexual practices to elementary school children

When people mistake the first action for the second—and it’s truly stunning how often it happens—they tend lose all sense of proportion, sweep everything off the shelves before whatever it is they haven’t actually read gets to the children, and end up teaching those kids lessons they may not have intended.

The thing about kids is, they’re constantly looking for confirmation of everything you tell them.  That’s the way they figure out how the world works.

You can tell them, We have to be nice to everyone and they’ll bug you for a complete list:

Differently colored people?   On the list.

People with glasses? Yes

Sick People? Of course

Small people?  Uh-huh.

People who don’t read as well as the rest of the class?  Yep.

People in wheelchairs?  On the list

People who can’t hear or see?  On there.

People who laugh all the time at nothing?  Sure.

People who cry all the time like big babies?  Yes and let’s discuss how you phrased that.

People who love Thomas Hardy’s poetry? Well . . . okay.

The kid who sticks paste in his ears and hums the National Anthem while he picks his nose?  Yes.  You don’t have to eat lunch with that kid, but you have to be nice.  And if someone else isn’t nice to him, you need to tell a grown-up.

People who are mean to me?  Tough one . . . but yeah, they’re on the list, too.

And that’s great.  But another thing about kids, is that they pick up the stuff you don’t say much better than they ever listen to the stuff you do.

You can tell them, We have to be nice to everyone and they’ll notice what you aren’t saying about certain people.***

Two boys holding hands?  Go out and play.

A girl who isn’t interested in boys when everyone else is?  Go out and play.

Kids who have two mommies or two daddies?   Go play.

Anyone who has been tagged, even in an off-handed way, as gay?  That’s not a nice thing to say.  We don’t use that word.

They may not know what a gay or lesbian person is or does—because heaven forfend we given even the simplest elementary-appropriate explanation of, say, two like-gendered people holding hands—but they will get the message that there’s something wrong with these persons, so wrong that it looks like it’s okay not to be nice to them.

And since kids are constantly looking for confirmation, some of ‘em will test it out in the real world by not being nice to the people they think aren’t specifically on the list.

I’m sure all of you have made the connection, but let’s drive it home, shall we?

That testing?  It’s bullying—and people die from it, one way or another.

No damn joke.

But what really steams me about all this idiocy is the response of the school system, which makes me wonder how Anti-Bullying Collections were ever accepted in these schools in the first place:

According to the Superintendent (emphasis mine), “People see a headline and they respond to something. They don’t understand that it’s very important to us to continue teach what we’ve taught and continue to take care of our kids the way we always have . . .  People from 30, 100, or 1,000 miles away don’t really understand the entire story.”

Oh, I think we do, dear.

What’s more, so will your kids.

______________

I found a video news report of this, but it won’t embed. Here’s the link, if you’re interested.

I’m relieved to see that there’s already a petition circulating in the community to get these materials back on the shelves.  I hope that’s enough and if it isn’t, I hope the petitioners step up the fight.

Because this is unacceptable.

________________

*Don’t try this at home kids, my lips just went numb.

**I don’t know for sure, because the library’s copies are all checked out.

***I’d include people of size, but that’s another rant.

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12 thoughts on “Anti-Bullying and Censorship: That’ll Teach Them

      • You raised her right.

        “Anyone who has been tagged, even in an off-handed way, as gay? That’s not a nice thing to say. We don’t use that word.”

        Before my son came out, the kids at school slung the word ‘gay’ at him as if it was an insult. He felt horrible. We decided the way to handle it was through humor and defiance, with a hint of feigned confusion that anyone could be so interested. Sort of a, Well, yes I am, why do you ask? approach. As his self-acceptance took hold, the pseudo-attitude became real and he was truly bored by anyone who thought being gay was something outrageous. At this point he’s positively blase.

        Sad that a kid has to develop a strategy like this, but then taunting is as old as childhood itself.

        • No kidding.

          Casual, thoughtless othering is the insidious flip-side to bullying.

          I’m so glad your son found a way to deal.

  1. I’ve spent my parenting life among a wide range of children – from those with absolutely no guidance to those who are shielded from everything.

    Those who are shielded are the most curious children I’ve ever met. What their parents deprive them of, they will seek out anyway.

    Sign me up on the team for answering the questions they ask. Simply and without equivocation. It’s when I begin to over-explain that I get into trouble and my kids tune me out.

    And those children whose parents think they are best served by being protected from everything, are most often the children perpetrating the bullying. It’s not done of ignorance, I assure you. Their best defense is that they “didn’t know” it was wrong because they were “never told.”

    • Yeah . . . ignorance about this kind of thing is a false defense, though. They may not have been told, but they were damn well shown.

      Sigh . . .

  2. Sarah,
    So thoughtful, yes, yes, yes!

    The other day in the car, conversation with my seven-year old son:
    -Mom, can boys marry boys?
    -Yep.
    -No really.
    -Well, not everywhere, but they should be able to.
    -Dad, is that true?
    -Yep.
    -Okay.

    Why does it have to be so complicated. He doesn’t know what relationships are about and my guess is that someone told him something, but when it’s answered matter-of-factly it just isn’t a big deal. Now granted, not everyone feels the way I do, but well, they should. So there.

  3. My kids get it. And I believe we’re evolved enough not to care one iota whether our kids end up bisexual or gay, themselves. My question is when they’re presented with a situation where they have a choice to sit back and let a child who is gay or bi be humiliated or stand up for that said child, will they do the right thing? God, I hope they do.

  4. I’ve got to remember to pull this article up when my kid asks. You know, as support for the truth, which is that “gay” is not a bad word. And same-sex marriages are not something we need to whisper about.

    This is a great take on this, but I’m sorry about the circumstances that brought it up. And I’ve got to check out Todd Parr.

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