History, the great teacher of repetitive patterns, is now written and rewritten in real time thanks to the technological advances that have enveloped our personal lives.
Politics, true to form, has also dipped its pen into what will be written about current happenings, historical events and societal shifts. You need only look as far as Florida Governor DeSantis to find the newest fear mongering warnings. DeSantis insists that schools are the breeding ground for perpetrators seeking to teach wickedness. Well, what he has decided is wicked at least.
Declaring a ‘woke’ society will be the destruction of our country and our children’s minds, he has been on a rampage to rip books from children’s hands and bestow an authoritarian rule over what the children in Florida can be taught. Truth and actual history be damned! He has declared a war on teachers and historians, to remove any and all history from the curriculum that doesn’t fit his narrative of what America should be, as opposed to what America has been.
DeSantis isn’t alone, many school districts across many states have found themselves in the crosshairs of a perceived epidemic that doesn’t exist. The ‘fear’ of indoctrinating children in schools, isn’t new. Nor is the perception of the influence books can have over a vulnerable mind, any mind really. From Anne Franks Diary of a Young Girl, George Orwell’s 1984, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to Nicole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project, literature has a long history in controversy. You need look no further than the Bible to know the written word can indeed be powerful. It can shape a mind, curate a soul and start a war, depending on the perception of the reader of course.
Indoctrination is the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically and without question. Education, however, is the process of giving and receiving concrete information while inviting discussion and critical thinking.
We enter life with an innate curiosity of the world around us. Our ideals and beliefs are formed through our life experiences, the things our parents teach us by example, what we hear and see in the world as well as what we read. Information is the key and the lock. Open, it flows freely and vastly, allowing the mind to absorb other cultures, the histories of human tribes and traditions of ancient era’s. Locked, information becomes filtered, categorized, labeled, and restricted.
Gender identity is the latest ‘thing’ to be thrown onto the stage of discourse. Society is so embroiled in labels, it is now stirring up the dust of an imaginary war between parents, schools, and government.
Sex, which was a label used centuries before DNA was even discovered, was given to humans based on nothing more than the sexual organ they were born with. Gender is something entirely different, and some, like DeSantis, want to dictate its meaning to an entire generation.
History created this identity label without taking into account the psychological characteristics or natural behavior of humans. These traits have been intricately woven with biology to the point of molding and shaping what ‘sex’ should mean and infiltrated this classification into society until it became the only definition of both sex and gender. In fact, a distinction between the two isn’t new. Throughout history examples of one’s expressive gender being different than their biologically assigned sex can be found.
It was widely known King William ll ordered the men in his court to grow their hair long and to wear pointed shoes. In the 19th century, Anne Lister, a wealthy independent landowner ahead of her time was often seen dressed in ‘male attire’ and often referred to as ‘Gentleman Jack’ around town. From the ‘tomboy’ next door to the ‘girly’ boy down the street, gender lines have always been hazy.
DNA does not determine how humans view themselves or the world around them. Biology and psychology are two different things and the forced intertwinement of the two doesn’t make it absolute. The categorization of humans has served no one. After all it has led to the creation of and sometimes the downfall of societal systems such as ancient hierarchy, the ever-growing patriarchy, the obsession of totalitarianism, the desire for control found in fascism, slavery, and systemic racism.
In America parents absolutely have the right to teach their children whatever belief system they so choose, and they also have zero right to prevent others from teaching their children ideals they may not agree with. Our countries First Amendment, the most vital amendment of our constitution, enshrines our right of free speech and prevents governments from setting boundaries on what is said or written.
Banning books and curriculum we don’t ‘agree’ with doesn’t ‘leave the teaching to the parents’. In fact, it does the opposite, it prevents the parent from having to teach it at all. If the topic never comes up, a discussion never happens. Children are perceptive observers and learn quickly what is up for discussion and what topics are closed at home. Books open doors, they are the ultimate conversation starter, and they are also the keepers of information. A book can be the only lifeline for a child overwhelmed with hopelessness, enveloped by shame, or filled with fear. Believing they can’t talk to their parent about feelings they may not even have words for, an at-risk child can often find themselves in a book.
While we fight over labels, categorizations, and religion our children are watching and learning. When to expose children to various ideals and beliefs is certainly a valid concern, whether you are a parent or not. However, believing we can control the information our children are exposed to is a myth. Unless we raise them in isolation, there is zero chance we will keep everything we disagree with from them.
Books can help open conversational doors, turn the light on in an emotional darkness and build bridges between children and their peers. Books are a necessary foundation to critical thinking. Teaching our children love, acceptance, compassion and tolerance should start with us, however that is not always the case. All children should believe they are worthy of love, friendship, and life without condition, regardless of what label society is currently debating. Indoctrination actually begins in our homes, our churches, communities, and social circles from the moment our children are born. Demanding the banning of books from educational facilities doesn’t protect children from narratives that don’t align with their parents’.
Certainly, there will always be material inappropriate for our youngest children, and that should be guided by a set of protocols determined by the educated professionals with the training and experience to impartially determine age appropriateness. Parents should continue to monitor and remove any material from their home they deem inappropriate according to their principles. However, the belief system of one parent should never be given authority over another parents belief. Nor should it be the deciding factor on whether an age-appropriate book is banned from a classroom, educational institution or library. The dictating of literature, whether by our government or groups of citizens, absolutely goes against what our country claims to be.
As a parent, whether you are starting this school year for the first time, the last time, or somewhere in between may the freedom of thinking, speaking and believing continue to be sown into this grand tapestry we call America, and not be silenced at the classroom door.