“If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.” So said the Duchess from Alice in Wonderland. Lewis CarroIl’s children’s fantasy is one of 7 books that were banned in some U. S. school districts. The others included The Diary of Anne Frank, Black Beauty, Where’s Waldo, the Harry Potter Series, and Grapes of Wrath. More titles continue to be banned. The most recent was All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, a series of personal essays about growing up as LGBTQI.
Terry McAuliffe, the defeated candidate in Virginia’s recent gubernatorial race, got into trouble over book banning when he said parents shouldn’t make decisions about school curriculum. That opinion may have cost him the election, but it didn’t make him wrong. Taxpayers pay for public education. That gives them as much say as parents. The notion behind public funding is that schools should make youngsters law-abiding citizens in our democracy. The question is, who decides on the content?
The answer is Texas. Book publishers have catered to Texas for years because its State Board of Education (SBE) purchases textbooks for all its districts, giving it purchasing clout. A conservative state, with more than its share of evangelicals, no one should be surprised that it once required publishers to list Moses among the country’s Founding Fathers.
Knowing the importance of education in young shaping minds, these conservatives poured money into school board elections, eager to keep Black Beauty off library shelves. The SBE landscape became so entitled, one member insisted evolution was “hooey.” School districts across the nation took notice and grew alarmed. By 2010, a coalition of educators called for a core curriculum, one that reflected a consensus on what textbooks should leave in or leave out.
Two philosophies have dominated the discussion. Some folks want students to see their country as a “beacon of hope” for the rest of the world. Others want education to reflect the nation’s history with greater accuracy. They suggested expanding the curriculum to include overlooked subjects like native history, slavery, women’s experiences, and the LGBTQI perspective.
To some degree, technology has softened the debate because textbooks no longer have to be “one size fits all.” Publishers can customize content. Moses may still be a Founding Father in Texas, but in New York, he probably isn’t. Simply put, technology has allowed education to become balkanized.
Already a divided nation, different curricula help to widen the gap. The spread comes at the worst of times. Two forces in the world are making it smaller: technology, and climate change. The latter has brought about large population migrations and forced disparate cultures to rub shoulders. Making the accommodation becomes a challenge to anyone who had hoped to go about minding his or her business. Bottom line? Either we find a way to work together or we go extinct.
At the Glasgow conference on climate, humanity took a small step in a forward direction. The United States and China issued a joint resolution on global warming. The two countries have little trust in one another but behaving as if they do is a start. A similar détente needs to happen in the United States. As I’ve suggested before, that will be a tall reach. What has left-wing commentator Rachel Maddow to say to right-wing Tucker Carlson? Or immunologist Dr. Anthony Faucci to the prince of the anti-vaxxers, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?
Both sides might begin by rereading the opening words of paragraph two in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” Truth is a good place to start to resolve a disagreement. In education, truth is essential. That it has lost ground to politics is a national tragedy and during the pandemic, over 750,000 have died because of it.
Many years will have to pass before we the people will recover from the “alternate facts” Donald Trump and his cohorts disseminated while in power. The wonder is his lies found so much fertile ground in which to take root.
There’s a lesson to be drawn from this realization. A nation determined to give financial preference to roads and bridges over its children endangers its core. Neglect leaves some of our youth as ticking time bombs set to go off in the future. A greater economy would be to imbue our public schools with curricula that instill a reverence for the truth and integrity. If we had succeeded in that objective as a nation, our present graduates might not have mistaken their pillage of our capital for an act of patriotism.