Fremont County is large, diverse, and filled with opinions, or “talk in the 10.” “Talk in the 10” is an opportunity for you, our readers, to articulate and share your thoughts about what is happening in the community with the community. Letters may have been edited for clarity and length, but generally have been published exactly as received. The views expressed in the following are solely those of the author. Send your letters to our editors by emailing opi[email protected]
The following letter to the editor was submitted in response to efforts from the Fremont County School District #1 board of trustees to change the policy IJLA – Public complaints about the curriculum or instructional materials, which, according to the letter author, will make it easier to ban library books from libraries without any sort of oversight committee.
One of the tenets of the First Amendment is that we have the right to speak without fear of retaliation from the federal government. We have come to extend this same expectation to other situations as well, whether it be in a classroom, on the street corner protesting, or in the literature we choose to read and write.
The fact that this freedom has been extended to libraries – both public and school – shows how paramount it is to uphold this. It was the first addition to our country’s supreme law – that’s how important it is. While most people would agree that pornographic material does not belong in schools or be within direct access for children, the definition of pornographic is not something that seems to be a universal understanding.
Stories about love, kissing, relationships, romance, etc. are not inherently pornographic. Stories with sexual situations in them are not inherently pornographic. In fact, this hope that we will raise our kids to make good choices, follow the morals that we have instilled in them, and become upstanding and productive citizens often relies on the fact that our children learn about sensitive topics in ways that are age and developmentally appropriate. This decision is exactly what parent choice is about.
However, that parent choice extends only to our own children. My morals and values might not align with the parent sitting beside me. That doesn’t make either one of us more right or more wrong than the other, but their choices for their kids do not apply to the choices I make for mine.
Policies in schools that attempt to parent are exactly what some conservative families rail against, yet many of them want to impose those parenting beliefs on the rest of the community. Our children are learning about the world every day. They hear about sex, drugs, violence, politics, etc. from the news, their peers, the media they consume. Even if we lock down their cell phones, block their internet, and keep them from the books we deem inappropriate, many of them still hear or see things when with their friends.
We have an incredible opportunity with each of these situations to talk to our kids – to lead them through the difficult conversations in a way that allows US to drive the conversation. My oldest child came home from school one day and asked me about sex. She wanted to know what it was. Her kindergarten classmates had been talking about it and she was confused. Kindergarteners were having the conversation. This is typical.
Unfortunately, our kids are exposed to things we wish they weren’t, and short of hiding them in a bubble, we can’t stop it. The best thing we can do for them is to have real, raw, honest conversations about these things. When our children ask us about the scary parts of the world, the best way we can prepare them is to inform them by telling them about the subject in ways that are age-appropriate and in language they’ll understand. And then tell them about how WE want them to approach that subject in their lives. Ignoring something doesn’t make it stop existing. It just leaves our kids vulnerable to assault, unwanted pregnancies, accidental drug overdoses… When it comes to these topics, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is dangerous.
Certainly, take the time to decide how to approach the conversation with your family. Be discerning about how much information you share and when. But also, recognize that the conversations are happening at school, at the park, with their friends, behind closed doors that we do not see. Kids are naturally curious. If we provide them with the tools and resources to learn information safely, they can navigate those “taboo” topics with grace and maturity. But if we teach them that the only thing to do is ignore, avoid, and don’t talk about it, then we fail to provide them the tools to cope, process, and react properly when something comes across their path.
LGBTQ individuals are real humans. BIPOC individuals are real humans. Each of these groups has unique experiences that the rest of the world can learn from through not only books and movies but by engaging in conversations. Yes, we are all human, but it is so much more than that. Claiming that people who are different really aren’t different only erases their value. Assigning value to humans based on one religion’s values undermines the importance of other religions (again, see the First Amendment). We need to remember that we aren’t always the intended audience. A book for LGBTQ+ kids might not appeal to a straight kid, just like books about rich, American teens might not appeal to immigrants trying to fit in at their new school. Not every book is meant for every reader and that is part of what makes libraries so brilliant. There is something there for everyone!
Do I believe every parent should be able to say what their own kids are reading for leisure? Sure do. But no parent has the right to tell another person’s kids what they can read. Ever. The courts have already decided this. Banning books violates the First Amendment. If you don’t want to look at books with people kissing on the cover, then walk on by. But maybe your classmate needs the lessons in that book to help them figure out some difficult things in their life. Maybe one of these books about rape or drugs will offer your classmate, your child, your friend’s child the words to come forward and ask for help. Maybe, just maybe, these books aren’t meant to indoctrinate anyone, but to save them.
English Teacher, Writer, and Parent