Banning Books and Teacher Pay
Credit: Kevin Siers, The Charlotte Observer, NC / CTNewsJunkie via Cagle Cartoons / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Barth Keck

Parents are as mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore (with apologies to Howard Beale.) Parents, quite simply, are asserting their rights all across the country and in Connecticut, demanding certain books be removed from libraries and calling for an immediate end to any discussions of gender in the classroom.

Just last month in Westport, all it took was one parent to demand that three “pornographic” books be removed from the Staples High School library, initiating a districtwide review process that Superintendent Thomas Scarice said had not been implemented in 20 years. The three books – “Flamer” by Mike Curato, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson – address issues facing gay, trans, and other LGBTQ individuals. Two of the books were nominated for a 2023 Nutmeg Book Award. A formal proposal on the books is expected during a meeting scheduled for tonight (April 17).

Similar dustups have been occurring elsewhere in Connecticut, including the recent introduction of a new policy concerning book displays at the Kent Memorial Library in Suffield.

Concerned parents are indeed as mad as hell and standing up for their rights, emboldened by conservative politicians who believe “discussions around race, gender identity, and sexuality are inappropriate for young children.” U.S. House Republicans last month passed the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” calling on school libraries to provide parents lists of their books, among other requirements.

The Senate has already indicated it will not take up the bill, deeming it an example of federal overreach – an ironic characterization, considering the national GOP has traditionally preferred a hands-off approach to education.

What’s even more ironic is how the so-called “parents’ rights movement” is actually taking basic parental responsibilities away from parents. One proposed bill in Texas, for example, would require book vendors to provide labels along with titles, including “sexually explicit,” “pervasively vulgar,” or “educationally unsuitable.”

“Apparently, it’s not enough for parents to keep an eye on what their children are checking out,” writes columnist Alyssa Rosenberg. “Instead, librarians must read the minds of every adult in town, anticipate what each one might find objectionable and pre-censor their shelves accordingly. Such proposals actually give publishers, librarians, and school administrators more power to make moral judgments on behalf of parents, not less.”

And what about those librarians, school administrators and, perhaps most notably, teachers? What effect has all of the current obsession with “parents’ rights” had on them?

It certainly has not made their professional lives easier. The growing teacher shortage, for instance, is largely attributable to “moral injury,” a circumstance I’ve addressed before. How many times must a teacher be called a “groomer” or “leftist indoctrinator” before deciding the public derision that now accompanies the job is no longer worth it?

That’s to say nothing of the disrespect students increasingly show teachers, a situation that has reached a boiling point in Middletown.

“Several longtime teachers, including the union president, beseeched school leaders earlier this month to address major concerns about working conditions, including alleged verbal abuse from students,” according to a Middletown Press story.

Explained 46-year middle school history teacher John Geary, “Never in my career have I had so many staff members come into my room, close the door, and openly cry for the way they’re being treated throughout the school day.”

“Parental responsibility,” anyone?

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

Fortunately, the situation has not gone unnoticed by certain Connecticut legislators, including state representative Christine Palm of Chester. Within HB 6884, an omnibus education bill, is a contribution from Palm that she calls a “Teachers’ Bill of Rights.” It asserts the following:

“Not later than January 1, 2024, each local and regional board of education shall adopt a written bill of rights for educators to guarantee that the rights of such educators are adequately safeguarded and protected during the performance of their duties.”

Palm’s initiative – which includes safeguards against public harassment of teachers – is a promising sign, an indication that in Connecticut we just might have the resolve to move beyond the dogmatic “parents’ rights” fixation.

In other words, it is now teachers channeling their inner Howard Beale, saying they’re as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Ultimately, that’s a good thing for kids and their education.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 32st year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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