Children’s books and kerfluffles

I’m one of those people who take children’s literature seriously. If you’re like me, you probably already read Horn Book Magazine for their coverage of the field and for their insightful reviews of children’s books (and if you don’t read it yet, find it in your local library!).

My younger sister, Abby, told me that the editor of Horn Book, Roger Sutton, now has his own blog devoted to children’s lit. You can’t go wrong with daily post about children’s literature. Better yet, Sutton takes on the current kerfluffle in Lexington, Massachusetts, where a public school teacher dared to present the children’s book King and King in which two kings get married. This action caused a parent to take offense. Sutton writes:

I guess I misread the zeitgeist when I reviewed the book, saying “the whole thing is so good-natured that only the most determined ideologue will be able to take offense.” Lexington school superintendent Paul Ash is my hero, saying “Lexington is committed to teaching children about the world they live in, and in Massachusetts same-sex marriage is legal.” [Link].

Having spent five years working in Lexington, I learned that the town is in fact home to some determined ideologues. From the Boston Globe’s coverage of the story:

“My son is only 7 years old,” said Lexington parent Robin Wirthlin, who complained to the school system last month and will meet with the superintendent next week. “By presenting this kind of issue at such a young age, they’re trying to indoctrinate our children. They’re intentionally presenting this as a norm, and it’s not a value that our family supports.” [Link]

Indoctrinate? –a storybook is going to make your kid gay? That kind of logic would lead to the conclusion that if we read stories about boy heroes to little girls, the girls will turn into boys. Everything in a children’s book is presented as a norm? So that means that every little girl should wear a red riding hood and let a wolf eat up her grandmother. I’m going to be uncharacteristically bitter here: determined ideologues like this are people for whom logic is not a concern.

4 thoughts on “Children’s books and kerfluffles

  1. kim

    This kind of mental rigidity that champions intolerance is a sign of immaturity —
    mental, emotional, spiritual.
    There are more and more people who need the certainty that an immature way of thinking offers.
    What makes people stay at an immature level into adulthood? What is it about our culture that
    is encouraging lack of maturity and discouraging the natural process of maturing?
    Why do some people mature anyway? Can we encourage that in some way?
    Can we do it more effectively?
    Can we counter the forces that encourage the delaying of maturation?

  2. Administrator

    Received via email from Jean, and also posted on her blog:

    I love teaching this kind of student — that kind of illogical statement…

    “By presenting this kind of issue at such a young age, they’re trying to indoctrinate our children. They’re intentionally presenting this as a norm, and it’s not a value that our family supports”

    …because that kind of statement allows us to initate a very spirited conversation about all the fun logical fallacies that are out there. Slippery slopes, non sequiturs, post hoc ergo propter hoc….etc. etc. etc.

    Then we turn to talk radio, and find even MORE examples. More fun.

    The good news is that students in my classroom who are conservative, or who have different “values” than this liberal teacher (me), learn that if you have a point of view, the challenge — the goal — is to present your point of view rationally, logically. And, in the process, in order to craft a rational, logical, argument, it is incumbent upon you to understand opposing points of view. Conservative Christian rhetoric and approach closes off converation by crafting responses like the view above, which are impossible to understand or respond to in any significant or useful way because these responses are irrational, accusatory, and do not in fact reveal the central tenets of the point of view itself. I don’t know if this person doesn’t “approve” of gay-ness itself, doesn’t approve of teaching values in the classroom (and what exactly *are* values?), doesn’t approve of flexibility of curricula in public school classrooms, or all of the above.

    So, perhaps a new approach would be to change the means of conversation. We cannot continue with the current pattern: Conservatives lob illogical complaints; Liberals return by labeling the person as a “determined idealogue.” (Sorry Dan.) Conservatives counter by lobbing back other labels, more illogical pre-packaged rhetoric. Etc. Until someone stops this pattern, we will never have a real conversation. We need to unpack what Conservative Christians are saying, try to find the core argument, and respond to that. This requires that we too attempt to understand their point of view. I realize that this is a difficult if not problematic approach. And a long term one. But, golly, what we’re doing now just doesn’t work.

  3. Administrator

    Jean — You write: “Liberals return by labeling the person as a ‘determined idealogue.'”

    Hey, who’re you calling a liberal, I’m much further to the left than that!

    Seriously, though, what makes me crazy about this whole “King and King” story is that it represents precisely the phenomonon you outline in your last paragraph — people hollering at each other without really listening. For the record, I dislike determined ideologues of any political persuasion. I cannot read the liberal political blogs for that reason. I even have a hard time reading the New York Times and New Yorker magazine, both of which slide into ideology on a regular basis; and I mock the Times on a regular basis. Next chance I get, I’ll write something about stupid leftie political correctness in schools — another one of my pet peeves!

    You also write: “We need to unpack what Conservative Christians are saying, try to find the core argument, and respond to that. This requires that we too attempt to understand their point of view.”

    As a religious professional, I actually spend a lot of time trying to do just that. I have found a great diversity of viewpoints among more conservative Christians, so I don’t think there’s a core argument. But I do think that part of what’s going on (and what’s applicable in this instance) is that conservative Christians are responding to the excesses of the sexual revolution. (And you know what, like many conservative Christians, I too believe our culture has become overly sexualized.) Something else is going on when it comes to fundamentalist Christians: a number of people have pointed out that fundamentalism really is a post-modern response to what’s going on in the world (I’ll try to come up with a citation on this for you academics out there). Like me, many fundamentalists dislike the modernist world that reduces everything to a market economy, where value is determined not by morals or ethics but by cash. Really, religious liberals and religious conservatives and fundamentalists have more in common with each other — they all believe that religious values are actually important — than they have in common with the rest of United States culture.

    One of the most interesting things I see happening right now is that some evangelical Christians who support environmentalism (because you really don’t want to be messing up God’s creation) and some religious liberals who support environmentalism (because all life is sacred) are tentatively reaching out to each other. This is a Good Thing. The spectre of global climate change and massive species extinctions should be a much higher priority right now than a kid’s book where two kings get married.

  4. JH

    Hi Dan –
    I am swamped at the moment, but when I get time I will write about the absolutely fascinating conversation I had recently with a conservative Christian — Baptist, daughter of a Baptist minister — in which she and I were able to get to the core of each other’s beliefs. We both looked at each other and said: wow. Who knew? It had, at the heart, to do with eternal life, or not. Interesting…
    Anyway — more soon.
    – J

Comments are closed.