Todd Parr has written over 30 children’s books, and he is the winner of two National Parenting Publication Awards, as well as three Oppenheim Gold Awards; but his The Family Book (preschool-grade 2; 2004) has stirred up some controversy.
In a whimsical, engaging way, the daily lives of all kinds of families are depicted, celebrating their differences and their similarities; and supporting acceptance of them all.
The joyful art features both human and animal characters- such as pigs portraying both clean and dirty families. Some families include stepmoms, stepdads, stepsisters, or stepbrothers; some adopt children; other families have two moms or two dads, while some children have only one parent.
Combined with these differences are the ways they are all alike: they hug each other, are sad when they lose someone they love, and enjoy celebrating together. The Family Book also serves as a teaching tool about bullying.
An otherwise harmless and typical children’s book, right? Not in Erie, Illinois.
This past week, an Illinois school district has banned the critically-acclaimed book all because of a single page referencing same-sex parents, with the accompanying line, “some families have two moms or two dads.”
In a WHBF-TV Quad Cities report-, which has since been removed from the station’s website- Erie School District 1 Superintendent, Bradley Cox, stated, “Several parents argued that the book discussed different types of family structures and those are issues that shouldn’t be taught at the elementary school level.”
Since the book was provided by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), the district has moved to ban everything the organization has provided or sponsored, which includes some very popular and successful anti-bullying programs used nationwide.
Lindsay Brookhart, a mother of three children in the district, told WHBF, “Give me a break! Is this seriously an issue in our town? I think everyone needs to take a step back, research the materials themselves, and see that it’s not anything that is age-inappropriate.”
Brookhart said that the censoring of these materials, which have been proven effective in schools nationwide in combating bullying, would hurt the progress they have made at the local level.
“I’ve seen it in my own household,” said Brookhart.
Lindsay’s daughter, Kyiah, will be in the third grade next year and took away a lot from the school’s anti–bullying programs sponsored by GLSEN. Her favorite of which is “No Name Calling Week,” which is now banned under the new policy.
“Well if someone says something mean to you then you shouldn’t believe what they say because they’re bullies and they’re not right,” said Kyiah.
Brookhart, along with more than a hundred other parents have signed a petition protesting the ban, a decision which impacts campaigns like No-Name Calling Week, and other materials co-authored by the National Association of Elementary-School Principals.
But Superintendent Cox claims he was only listening to the voice of his community. Unfortunately, yet again, the heated mob-mentality of a few, fueled by emotion rather than reason, has dictated policy for the many.
“It’s probably a bit of a misrepresentation to say that it’s just a few parents who have a concern when in fact, at the end of the day, it was a school board representing the views, values and philosophies of a community that really made the decision,” said Cox. “I think our community has very clearly said if those topics come up with 6-year-olds or 7-year-olds that they would rather have those topics discussed at home. We’re still going to teach tolerance, we’re still going to teach diversity.”
Cox says that the curriculum will not be changed, only the materials that will be used to teach the students; but the district’s policy from this point on states, according to Cox, that under no circumstances will topics involving alternative lifestyles be discussed at the elementary level.
But as every parent knows, hate is not something you are born with, it is something that is learned. If these parents are so bent out of shape over a single reference to a lifestyle that is a fact of life, then it’s safe to say that their children will grow up as ignorant and as intolerant as they are.
How can you teach tolerance and the bringing of a community together as one, but make it quite clear that certain types of people are not welcome in that community?
Nowhere in the 32-page book does it promote, encourage, or sell any life situation over another. It simply looks at the world and says, as a matter of fact, “These are the many people of Earth.”
Todd Parr addressed the members of the Erie, Illinois school board in a video response that can be seen on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwNqCkDwZPs
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html
Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, Huffington Post, WHBF-CBS News, School Library Journal
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions