Raising Our Children as Future Leaders in an Era of Book Banning and Attacks on ‘Critical Race Theory’

When we decide to take books off the shelves because they don’t represent your family’s values, we are creating leaders who will be ill-informed, less compassionate, and less empathic.
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I’ve spent more than a few decades working with about 200 schools in the region (Philadelphia, Montgomery and Bucks County) and 20 years teaching in higher education. I have worked with all grade-levels and I am watching change now that will negatively impact our children as future leaders, future parents, future teachers. 

Since 2016, I have witnessed a significant rise in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia. I began to think about how all parents want to see their child thrive and be successful. So, I am taking a step back to help us understand the fear around book-banning and “Critical Race Theory” to share my take on how we nurture and mold young people to be good citizens and effective leaders.

  1. Don’t use fear as a tool. Instead, inspire and empower young people to read and discover our full American history. To know our American history, it would include lesson plans and readings of the genocide of Native Americans, the horror of slavery, the devastation of Jim Crow laws, the history of the Women’s suffragette movement, and the significant history of the Civil Rights movement. We have a messy, ugly and uncomfortable history of our fragile democracy, which to this day, benefits the white, wealthy, and (mostly) men of our country. 
  1. Embrace all our students using lesson plans, literature and discussion in which they are able to see themselves, be acknowledged and heard. By eliminating readings and books that include characters who are people of color or LGBTQ, you send a message that we don’t care if we are marginalizing one group of students over others. 
  1. Allow for deep and uncomfortable dialogue that can help students hear all sides of an issue and also hear the stories of those who are impacted by discrimination, or judged because of their religion, race, ethnicity or ability. Students grow academically when there is time set aside for conversations about topics rarely discussed elsewhere. They learn tools in how to craft their opinion so that they feel heard and validated, even when there is disagreement. Most people don’t know how to address conflict effectively, and when we make a decision to eliminate the discomfort of dialogue on issues that ultimately impact ALL of the students, we take away their social and emotional safety. 
  1.  Encourage young people to do research on topics that don’t put the U.S. in the best light. Truth can be uncomfortable, but it is an essential tool for growth and leadership. At a local blue-ribbon high school, I was horrified to learn that a history teacher’s assignment to his class was that the students were to choose to research either the “pros” or the “cons” of slavery. Would we ever teach the Holocaust from that perspective? That tells me that this history teacher never learned the true horrors of slavery – or they could have never given such as assignment. 

We are living in a disturbing time that will impact these next group of young leaders. When we decide to take books off the shelves because they don’t represent your family’s values, we are creating leaders who will be ill-informed, less compassionate, and less empathic. This can lead to emotional and social violence. 

There has always been the choice to opt your child out of reading books that you don’t want them exposed to, but when that choice is taken away from ALL the students, they will all be ill-prepared for college & university and they will become untrusting of adults in their lives. They will be ill-prepared for a workforce that is diverse. They will be ill-prepared for living in a diverse country. These efforts are already setting us back 50-60 years.

When we don’t teach about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, we become a nationalist country with little tolerance for anyone who is not white, Christian, and heterosexual. What are the possible outcomes? The worst outcome is violence, including suicide and depression, police brutality against unarmed people of color, bullying behavior that goes unchecked – and all of this removes safety for every single person. The result is a dumbed-down society reacting to fear. 

What are our children learning by watching our society fight over these issues? They are learning that we don’t value compassion. We don’t value those with whom there is disagreement. They don’t value listening to one another. We don’t value social justice, forgiveness, or universal love. 

The irony is that those who rail against diverse books in our schools and libraries, and don’t want their children to be uncomfortable learning about the horrors of our history, profess they are Christians. My family grew up Christian and my parents taught Sunday School and our most important lesson was that of compassion and love. Not judgment, not fear, not hate.  

I urge parents to step back and tap into their hearts. Think about when you felt most loved, most valued. Sit with those emotions and memories. We all know and love someone who is marginalized in our community, our neighborhood. Would we want our own children to be oppressed or isolated from others, or their feelings harmed?  I already know the answer would be “of course not.” 

We live in a nation that has embraced many tired and oppressed seeking to be free. Our duty as American citizens is to fight for liberty and justice for ALL. Our spiritual duty is to be “Our sisters and brothers keeper.”

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Barbara Simmons

Barbara Simmons retired after serving as executive director of The Peace Center for over thirty years, a peace and justice organization in Bucks County. Simmons spent 20 years as an adjunct instructor at Arcadia University’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution master’s program.She currently serves as Ambassador to L.O.V.E. is the Answer, a global movement that grew out of WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. is the Answer, which brings together police and the community they serve in an effort to address racism and police brutality.

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