The Time is Now to be an Adult – Amanda Green
Yesterday, during a break from work, I hit Facebook like so many others do and came across a couple of articles that not only had me shaking my head but I have no doubt had my father spinning in his grave. There were any number of things he and I disagreed about, not the least of which was politics. One thing we did agree upon, however, was our love of books. He, even more than my mother, believed that the best way to educate yourself wasn’t to go to school. Books, to him, were the gateway to all knowledge. They gave you the foundation and then practical application gave you the mastery.
You see, my dad was an Okie who grew up during the Great Depression. (Of course, growing up in Ardmore, OK would be, in my opinion, the Great Depression but that’s another tale.) Unlike so many during that time, his father was able to make sure the family had a roof over its head. It wasn’t always the same roof. My father and one of his sisters were parceled out to their grandmother for several years because the family couldn’t afford all the kids. That left scars but, as adults, they learned that was probably the best thing the family could have done.
There was another benefit to spending those years with their grandmother. Neither my dad nor my aunt were in the best of health. They spent a lot of their time in bed, getting over the latest bout of illness. To pass the time, they read. The one treasure their grandmother had were her books. She had been born on the Trail of Tears. She had grown up dirt poor in Oklahoma before marrying their grandfather. Together they had farmed and raised their own family and he had taught her to read and she learned to love not only the escape fiction gave her but the knowledge non-fiction did.
That love for books was passed on to my aunt and especially to my father. It is a love he passed on to me. I was doubly fortunate because my mother also loves to read and together, she and my father made sure there were always books to read. More than that, they taught me the importance of reading books and stories that were written in times long past. They explained that the subject might make me uncomfortable and I certainly wasn’t supposed to embrace those uncomfortable or controversial ideas – unless I fully investigated them and believed in then and then I had better be prepared to accept the consequences. However, as they pointed out, reading about those times and idea was the only way to learn from them and make sure those mistakes weren’t repeated.
Unfortunately, in this day and age of political correctness and delicate flower egos, that is something that has been forgotten. That was brought home to me again yesterday.
The New York Post has reported on a school making the decision to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This isn’t the first time the book by Mark Twain has been the center of controversy, either by being banned or being sanitized (the offending language being cleaned up and modernized). But, in many of those situations, the students involved were middle grade students. In this particular instance, the students were 11th graders.
“We have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits,” principal Art Hall said in a letter to parents.
What? Wait, it gets better.
Hall said students were challenged by the use of the racial slur, and felt the school was not being inclusive enough. . . “I do not believe that we’re censoring. I really do believe that this is an opportunity for the school to step forward and listen to the students,” Hall said.
The one redeeming fact from all this is that the book isn’t being removed from the school library. But what troubles me is that the administration is bending to the will of students about what should be taught. I get that they are uncomfortable with the use of the N-word. Hell, so am I. I was brought up with the knowledge that it was a derogatory word and shouldn’t be used. If either of my parents had heard me use it, they would have impressed upon me the error of my ways.
However, the word was used back when Twain wrote the book. The world was a different place than it is now and we need to learn from that world. Learn the history and society so we don’t repeat them.
But there is something else regarding this particular instance that bothers me, something I’m seeing more and more of. Instead of using Twain’s book as a learning experience, the school gave in to the “feelings” of the students. The administration didn’t want to make the students uncomfortable. Instead of teaching them that life will sometimes be uncomfortable, the lesson being given is that your feelings are more important than anything or anyone else.
This is very similar to what is happening in Dallas with regard to the name of one of the schools. In the 1950’s, around the time that the Supreme Court decided Brown v. the Board of Education, the Dallas Independent School District opened a new school. That school was named for John Bell Hood. For those unfamiliar with the name, Hood is best known for his military service to the Confederacy. Prior to that, he graduated from the United States Military Academy. He then served in the Army in California as well as Texas. But he will forever be tainted in the eyes of so many because of his loyalty to the Confederacy.
Earlier this year, students at Hood Middle School were given the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted to keep the name or have their school renamed. The reason? Quite simply it boiled down to whether or not they should commemorate the name of a man who served the Confederacy. Nothing else about his life was considered. Only those few years where he fought for a nation (legitimate or not) he felt loyalty to.
I don’t blame the kids in this. One of the current trends in this nation has been to erase not only the Confederacy but to shame everyone because of what happened so long ago. Yes, there was slavery in parts of what now comprises the United States. Yes, slavery is horrible. But let’s be real. It neither started in the US nor end here. Nor should those of us living now be held responsible for what our ancestors may or may not have done. But that’s not the point of this post.
Now, while I object to removing memorials to men and women simply because they took part in the losing end of the Civil War, I have no issue with Hood Middle School being renamed. Not because he was a general in the Confederacy but because he had no real ties to Dallas. From the best I can tell, the only connection Hood had with Dallas was he served with one of the then trustees’ grandfathers before the Civil War. That’s all. So yeah, let’s find someone with strong Dallas ties that can be used as a role model for our kids.
My issue with removing books like Huck Finn from the curriculum boils down to willingly blinding students to history. They need to see what they are taught in their history classes in the context of the time and learn from it. Will it always be easy and comfortable? No. But it shouldn’t be. We need that discomfort to help us remember the lessons.
More than that, where do we draw the line? Will we soon be saying, “Kids, we let you decide that you don’t want to read this book because it used a word you are uncomfortable with. Now there’s another group of kids who are uncomfortable with the language in this book. So we aren’t going to let that book be taught either. Oh and there are some of our students who aren’t comfortable learning algebra because they can’t catch on as quickly as others, so we won’t be teaching it any longer.”?
Yes, it seems far-fetched but is it really? We are reinforcing this idea in our kids that if they are uncomfortable with something, they need a safe place. Or they don’t have to read the item in question. Schools have actually quit assigning and/or grading homework because it makes those who don’t do it or don’t understand it feel bad. You don’t grade papers in class (remember those days when you would finish an assignment, hand it to the person in front or behind you and then everyone would grade the assignment right there?) because someone might be embarrassed by their grade.
When do we, as the so-called adults step up and start adulting? When do we tell our schools that their job is really simple: they are to educate our kids and prepare them for the real world, not the world of cotton batting and good feelz? When do we take the responsibility of making sure our kids know history and understand that the world today is different from the world of yesterday and why? When do we make sure they know about those times we never want to see repeated: slavery here and elsewhere, the Holocaust, etc?
I challenge you to talk to the average student attending public (or even private) school and ask them the cause for the Civil War. See if any of them can name, much less discuss, anything other than slavery. Then ask them to name the parties that made up the Axis and the Allies and ask about things like The Final Solution. Ask them about Korea and Vietnam. Or, even more telling in some ways, ask about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
I fear for this nation, not because of the current crop of politicians (although they are an issue in themselves) but because of the younger generation that believes their feelings are more important than anything else. How in the hell are they going to function in the real world where they won’t be the best at everything they do, where people will disagree with them and – gasp – might use language that makes them uncomfortable?
Look at what your local schools are doing and if, like the school mentioned in the article linked above, books are being banned because they might make kids feel uncomfortable because of the use of a word thought bad now but that was common at the time the book was written, demand a more adequate explanation than “they might be uncomfortable”. This is an election year. It is easy to forget that there are local elections as well as national ones. Most school boards are elected. Demand accountability from them and if they aren’t making sure the schools are teaching your children the way you think they should, replace them.
It is time for the adults to start adulting and that means teaching our kids that they aren’t special flowers all the time and that the world isn’t always going to coddle them.