How the age-appropriate debate is altering curriculum in Tennessee and nationwide
May 6, 2022 11:07 AM   Subscribe

How the age-appropriate debate is altering curriculum in Tennessee and nationwide A Chalkbeat investigation explores the report for 31 challenged texts to provide context on the complaints and how they were handled. [via mefi projects]

What they found:
* under the aegis of "age-inappropriate," challenges covered a wide variety of complaints
* several books were accused of being racist because they depicted racism, including Ruby Bridges' autobiography
* a book detailing Galileo's life was accused of anti-religious bias for accurately describing his house arrest by the church
* a book on seahorses was challenged for "attempting to normalize that males can get pregnant" and introducing gender fluidity to the classroom
* a well-loved book on sharks (which, ironically, was primarily about the fact that shark attacks are uncommon) was challenged for being too dark and scary

Reporter Marta W. Aldrich then dug into the dynamics of the challenges in Tennessee, and talked to experts around the country, as well as scholars who have studied the ways that other countries have covered their historical actions in the classroom.
posted by bleary (32 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good lord, that is the worst website design I have seen since the 1990s. It's a triumph of awful.

...you're welcome?
posted by Four String Riot at 11:47 AM on May 6 [20 favorites]


If an oppressed child is old enough to experience it, a privileged child is old enough to learn about it.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 11:48 AM on May 6 [58 favorites]


Yeah, so how do they address it in elementary school, when a kid says I don't have a mommy, I have two daddies, or I don't have a daddy, I have two mommies. Teacher tries to cover by saying they are roommates, and the kid says, "No, they are married." I know Mefites know how to address this, but certain southern states in the US, not so much.
posted by Oyéah at 11:57 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Yeah, so how do they address it in elementary school, when a kid says I don't have a mommy, I have two daddies, or I don't have a daddy, I have two mommies.

Probably the same way they'd handle a child stating a fact about their anatomy that the teacher's uncomfortable with: scolding the child.

Stories abound about children using proper anatomical terms and getting in trouble despite it being accurate.
posted by explosion at 12:02 PM on May 6 [15 favorites]


Yeah, so how do they address it in elementary school, when a kid says I don't have a mommy, I have two daddies, or I don't have a daddy, I have two mommies. Teacher tries to cover by saying they are roommates, and the kid says, "No, they are married." I know Mefites know how to address this, but certain southern states in the US, not so much.

So, I went to Catholic grade school in the 1980s. One girl's parents were divorced, and his dad was living with his new girlfriend. My classmate mentioned the girlfriend one day in third grade, innocuously describing her as "my dad's roommate", and the teacher just panicked and tried to get onto a different topic. Not very smoothly obviously, since it was conspicuous enough that I still remember it!
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 12:07 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


the worst website design I have seen

Tip: Switch your browser to Reader View
posted by Rash at 12:07 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


Oh man, we have the Johnny Appleseed book in that article. Apparently, people objected to it because it showed white settlers "violating treaties"?

And maybe it got updated in subsequent editions, but the version we have from Mr. Machine's childhood does not, in any way, even really touch on the reality of treaty-breaking. In fact, it continually frames white settlers moving into Native American lands as neutral and natural and even desirable. It's legit just like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ we'll never know why Native Americans and Johnny's friends were fighting ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ good thing Johnny was friends with both sides and was able to warn the white settlers when the Native Americans attacked their farmsteads for some reason! How heroic of him!

I actually dislike the book for this exact reason, even though it has absolutely gorgeous art.

But Christ. Some white people just really fucking cannot take something that even reminds them that other white people might, in the past, possibly have done something wrong, can they?
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:36 PM on May 6 [23 favorites]


This is the stupidest possible timeline.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:38 PM on May 6 [8 favorites]


These hayseed theocrats are going to push things as far as they possibly can - whether what passes for the left in the US has the guts, stamina + organizational capacity to fight back is the only meaningful question right now.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:41 PM on May 6 [17 favorites]


What about the Bible? I mean it has incest… Lot’s daughters got him drunk so they could have sex with him in a cave because they were afraid of having no progeny. No smiting from God over this either. Unlike Onan…
posted by njohnson23 at 1:07 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


a book on seahorses was challenged for "attempting to normalize that males can get pregnant" and introducing gender fluidity to the classroom

I feel like SCREAMING 😱
posted by tiny frying pan at 1:08 PM on May 6 [12 favorites]


As a person with teenagers in this school district, I’d like to point out from the report that these complaints came from thirty-seven people.

Every city has at least forty bigots in it. Here, they just happen to have organized.

(I also feel like screaming about it.)
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 1:16 PM on May 6 [29 favorites]


The problem isn't even that these people are self-contradictory fools (though they are). The problem isn't even that they're arguing in bad faith (though they are). The problem is that they think everyone is arguing in bad faith, that no one means anything, that people just want or don't want shit and it's all just a game to see who wins.

You can't talk them out of anything because they not only don't believe most of what they say, they don't think you mean a word coming out of your mouth, either.

It's trolling as a political modus operandi and I don't know what to do with that. I mean, you would think the solution would be for a functioning media or judicial system to call them out, but the former is only gonna happen with a guffaw on comedy shows. The latter won't happen at all because they rigged the courts.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:35 PM on May 6 [54 favorites]


Nice to see the beginning and at least the middle here. We hear a lot about the complaints because they're outlandish, but it's not nearly so interesting to hear "the books were reviewed and nearly all retained, though some lesson plans were adjusted to better address the issues" and other such reasonable measures taken in response to the bigot bloc.

I feel sure that this kind of discussion and negotiation has been happening in less wild terms over many years as parents brought things like a book that scared their kid in and said "what's the story here" and received a well thought out answer from the teacher. It's just that now the 37 assholes don't do that, partly because most of them don't have kids there, and partly because it's more effective to shout it from the rooftops as a war on whiteness.

What's truly mind blowing is the fact that these minds simultaneously support the notion of cancel culture ruining everything and that of values-based censorship. Which is it?
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:39 PM on May 6 [8 favorites]


Being caught contradicting yourself is only a hindrance to people who were speaking from a real moral ethos and would be ashamed to find they have not lived up to that.

People without shame who were always lying don't lose a beat when you call them a hypocrite.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:44 PM on May 6 [18 favorites]


I think the website design is great and works well for this material. Good job, Four String Riot.
posted by hydra77 at 1:51 PM on May 6 [33 favorites]


I'm glad that, after all that, they decided to keep most of the books, but I'm also appalled that they removed Walk Two Moons, which was non-controversial enough back in 1995 to win the Newbery Medal, then and now the most prestigious award for children's literature in the country.

(Also, I learned today that the founder of Moms for Liberty 'conceived of the organization in the fall of 2020, after losing a seat she had held on the Brevard County school board in Florida by losing in a primary by nearly 10 percentage points to former district employee Jennifer Jenkins, who campaigned against [her] opposition to mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic and teacher raises.')
posted by box at 2:00 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


Oh, it's not just books, and it's not just Tennessee (and Florida). Don't say gay is coming for your TV.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:29 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


What's truly mind blowing is the fact that these minds simultaneously support the notion of cancel culture ruining everything and that of values-based censorship.

One of the real stumbling blocks in dealing w/this kind of thing appears to be liberals' deep inability to grasp that the right will say and do anything to achieve its aims. They don't care about truth, ideological consistency, etc. because their only true, core value and goal is the domination and subjugation of their opponents.

You don't win arguments with people like that with words.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:10 PM on May 6 [32 favorites]


How Mosquitos Buzz in Peoples' Ears? Really?

Hatchet was one of my son's favorite books when he was in elementary school. The hero, while in a scary situation, manages to be brave and resourceful and survive. All good lessons.
posted by olykate at 4:56 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


So as to these senators from five backwards states wanting a new TV rating… Are White House press briefings going to have to be marked with a pink Q or whatever their prurient minds come up with? This country is vile.
posted by njohnson23 at 5:12 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


They removed Walk Two Moons?!? That book is FUCKING GREAT. I used to teach 5th grade and I read that to my class every year.

I haven't taught in 15 years. I was an okay teacher back then. I know for a fact I'd be a much better teacher now. Lately I've had an itch to go back to teaching. Part of me wants to primarily because of what's happening. Because I know that one of the major reasons I would be a much better teacher now is because I wouldn't be afraid of getting fired. Principals, administrators, dumb motherfucking parents could all get mad at me and tell me to do this or stop doing that and I wouldn't sweat. I would just look them in the eye and say "I have these kids' best interests in mind so I'm going to teach them what they need to know."

And if I got fired for that then it's their fucking loss.
posted by nushustu at 6:45 PM on May 6 [11 favorites]


a book on seahorses was challenged for "attempting to normalize that males can get pregnant" and introducing gender fluidity to the classroom

Wait until they learn about parrotfish and wrasses. Seahorses are just really involved dads; other fishes actually change sex.
posted by jb at 9:48 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


I read Walk Two Moons when I was about ten, while visiting relatives, and it probably wasn't long after the book came out that I read it. All I remember about the book is that one character was very concerned about cholesterol. It seemed thoroughly unobjectionable to me in the manner that a book where a character wants to avoid excessive cholesterol would be.
posted by Whale Oil at 9:48 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Mod note: One deleted. Reminder: Violent fantasy or advocacy of violence isn't okay, and really doesn't add anything interesting for the discussion. "Someone should punch / beat / kill them" doesn't address existing issues in a substantive or reasonable way, is more about expressing individual, personal rage than participating in a conversation, and is off-putting to people who would like to discuss issues without gratuitous violent imagery popping up in every thread about a negative thing that happened or is happening.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:09 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


The main character of Walk Two Moons is of Seneca descent, and the book contains this passage:

It was fine seeing the presidents [on Mt. Rushmore], but you'd think the Sioux would be mighty sad to have those white faces carved into their sacred hill. I bet my mother was upset. I wondered why whoever carved them couldn't put a couple Indians up there too.
Walk Two Moons is one of the only books I know of, among books frequently assigned in schools, that has a main character of Native American descent (aside from, like, retellings of Native American traditional stories by white people, which sometimes have nothing to do with any traditional story). It's not necessarily a great example of Native American representation; it's by a white author, and the main character is pretty disconnected from Seneca culture. But I guess even this much history about US violence toward Native Americans is suspicious now.
posted by Jeanne at 4:18 AM on May 7 [7 favorites]


Wait until they learn about parrotfish and wrasses. Seahorses are just really involved dads

Wonder what will they say about the cuttlefish? TL;DR: the little guys go transvestite to sneak their way closer to the females despite the bigger males playing goalie.
The mating scene for giant Australian cuttlefish (Sepia apama) is rife with fighting and deception. Small males often scoop their much larger counterparts by pretending to be female themselves, which allows the runts to get closer to females of reproductive age.
Scientific American
posted by kschang at 6:39 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


This somehow feels a LOT like the previous discussion on which side is banning more books, and the only example "from the left" I found was two black congresspeople asking school districts to consider removing Huck Finn, even though that's opposed by even Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. She basically called such bans kneejerk reactions that don't address the problem but look good to the media, IIRC.

Glad that these school boards are making proper decisions, not reacting to kneejerk reactions from "concerned" parents being Chads and Karens.

P.S. The website design is fine. The first couple scrolls with the mouse wheel are necessary to illustrate the subsets of books being affected.
posted by kschang at 6:50 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


I also find the parent who decided the curriculum was "dark and depressing" for her son and the books "teaches hate" extremely naive or have a just outright skewed worldview.

Good does not exist independently from evil. How do you explain civil rights WITHOUT showing the hostile whites? You can't. You have to show what they were up against. Her idea of "showing the Black civil rights leaders and their white allies" doesn't work WITHOUT showing the hostile whites first.

It really smells like "cult of toxic positivity", that a child should be praised no matter how badly s/he did and so on.
posted by kschang at 7:07 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


the little guys go transvestite to sneak their way closer to the females despite the bigger males playing goalie.

That's literally exactly what they think trans folk in bathrooms are doing.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:43 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


And make attack ads about it, and campaign about it, and prevent children from getting medication based on it, and make it so I and many others genuinely no longer feel safe in this country.
posted by Jacen at 12:42 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


the little guys go transvestite to sneak their way closer to the females despite the bigger males playing goalie

So basically, JK Rowling's fever dream.
posted by tigrrrlily at 3:26 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


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