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


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.


Banned Book Review: And Tango Makes Three

Once again the Rejectionist has challenged her devoted readership—in honor of Banned Book Week, she’s asked us to read and review a banned book.

The only problem I had was  choosing a title.  Looking at the lists—and there are many, many lists—it turns out that mostly without knowing it,  I’ve read a lot of books over the years that someone somewhere wanted to keep me from reading.*

But as much as I love and\or respect  The Color Purple , Huckleberry Finn, George Orwell, and so on  (and on and on),  I thought I’d choose something I hadn’t read before.  And since I’ve spent the last few days  jumping up and down on my “spare the children, spoil the future” soapbox, I decided to find a banned children’s book I hadn’t read before.

The book I chose** has been attacked almost every year since it was released.***  Our library system owns several  copies, all but one of which were checked out, which shows how popular it is.^

And Tango Makes Three  is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins in the Central Park Zoo in New York, who choose each other as partners.  They do everything the other penguin couples do,  which includes building a nest together.  Unable to lay eggs, they take turns sitting on a rock, until the penguin keeper gives them a fertilized egg.

Roy and Silo take care of the egg and it hatches into a female penguin that the keeper names Tango, because “it takes two to make a Tango.”  The two penguins successfully raise Tango together as a family.

Full confession:  I actually teared up.  The illustrations are so expressive and cute and Tango is so bright-eyed and fuzzy-wuzzy .  . . ahem.  Henry Cole did a fantastic job.

So did Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell.  This story makes its point through simple facts and clear sentences—no hammer necessary.  Ray and Silo aren’t anthropomorphic— these are real penguins whose behavior is interpreted, in part, through their keeper.  They are exactly like every other penguin couple, except they can’t produce an egg on their own.

And let the terrified rest assured:  while Roy and Silo are affectionate partners, those condemning  (or hoping  for^^) graphic penguin lust must look elsewhere.

A child reading this book will take away at least four  gentle ideas:  Homosexuality naturally occurs in the animal kingdom.  Families of all gender combinations occur in the animal kingdom.  Roy, Silo, and Tango are liked by zoo visitors and loved by each other.  No animal was harmed during the original events of this story.

No wonder every homophobe who encounters this book is threatened by it.

My children loved it.


* I’d also like to thank and give kudos to my public school system for requiring me to read so many of these books, although I certainly didn’t thank you at the time.   Sort of kicks that “inappropriate for age group” grievance in the teeth, doesn’t it?

**With the help of yet more lists and a friend—thanks, Grace!

***Not in our library system, though.  We blessedly get few complaints about items in our collections—The only one I can remember was an illustrated juvenile picture book of the human body that someone’s toddler was dragging around by a single page.  I think we gave the mother a copy of our Unattended Children Policy and everyone agreed to call it a draw.

^ And it’s short with lots of pictures— a bonus, since I left this review until the very last minute.

^^Or both—I always wonder about people who protest too much.