Rejecting Censorship: Embracing Representation
In what is becoming a disturbingly common experience in America, hundreds of protesters descended on a meeting of the Montgomery County, Md., Board of Education this week and attacked the presence of books with LGBTQ+ characters in the curriculum.
In this case, the parents are demanding an opt-out from their children being exposed to such materials – and a few families have even filed a lawsuit over the matter. But they’re asking for too much, and the board should reject their demands.
Parents in Montgomery County already have the right to opt out of discrete portions of a sex-education curriculum. But demands that children be shielded from these books, which are part of a supplemental curriculum that focuses on language arts, just because the tomes might contain LGBTQ+ themes or characters isn’t reasonable.
Censorship: A disservice to children
It also does a disservice to the children. As these youngsters emerge into the world, they’re going to meet lots of different people, including folks of various races, creeds, national backgrounds and sexual expressions. They’ll meet people who are straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual and so on.
The parents at the protest, many of whom came from conservative Muslim and Ethiopian Orthodox communities, seem to want the public schools to buttress the unfortunate forms of homophobia that are rife in some religious communities. That can’t happen. The job of public education is to expand horizons and prepare students for the world they will actually live in. Schools fail at this when they ignore the lived experiences of millions of people. (And I would remind the parents who protested of an interesting fact: 20% of the members of Gen. Z identify as LGBTQ+. Inevitably, this will include some of your own kids. Perhaps it would be best to embrace tolerance now.)
Objections to public school curricula are common. Some parents reject evolution and don’t want their kids to learn it. Others oppose their children learning anything about America’s troubled history of slavery and race relations. Still others have lodged complaints over objective instruction about Islam and non-Christian faiths. If public schools cave into all these demands, there will be little left to teach.
I live in Montgomery County, and my two daughters attended public schools there. My wife and I know from experience that the county’s public schools are responsive to parents and try to work with them when possible.
In this case, it’s not possible because the parents are demanding that huge swaths of instruction be removed or curtailed across the entire school system because of their religious beliefs.
This is neither wise nor desirable. In fact, it cuts against the very mission of public education: to educate young people and prepare them for the world as it exists.