To the School Board (any of them)

This post is an open letter to all school boards and administrators, but it was written in repsonceto this post about Strasburg, Colorado by author John Green over on his Tumblr.

I have read that there are some members of your community who have registered complaints that certain books currently being used to educate your teenaged students are “profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, vile, and will result in the irreparable erosion of my students’ moral character.” I am familiar with most of these books, and with the broader world. I counter their claims by saying that the world is profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, and vile, and that we need young adults who are prepared for that. We need them to learn empathy and problem solving. We need them to be aware of the struggles of others and to be able to imagine the thoughts of people who have lead very different lives. That is what fiction can do for us.

We can only protect children for so long. That time is better spent preparing them to be adults. We can give them books full of bad words and bad decisions, and offer a safe place to talk about how those choices effect the outcomes. We can show them young people involved in adult situations, and if those situations are written well, as in “Go Ask Alice” and “The Fault in Our Stars”, our children can learn to make better choices while at the same time learning empathy for those to whom life has been less kind.

There are bad books written for young adults. There are good books which were not written for young adults. Don’t let the content be the primary thing on which you judge them. Look at the language, the style, the overall theme, and determine if there is something in them that your students can learn from. We don’t learn unless we are exposed to new ideas. We aren’t even able to judge our values if they are never questioned. If you want your students to be able to defend the values you hope to instill, then you have to train them in that defense, and this can only be done by challenging those values in safe, structured environments, like the classroom of a dedicated teacher.

Please consider the value that comes from bringing the big, crude, profane world to your children on your own terms before they are let loose into it. We don’t teach kindergartners about witches and wolves anymore. We shelter our kids far too long. As a member of Generation X, I can tell you that the tendency to sterilize fair tales and choose impotent novels has set up a lot of young adults for failure. They don’t know how to make the tough choices. No one taught them how to have emotionally healthy relationships or to defend their ideas and values in a world where you have to stand for something.

Children need fiction. They need stories that challenge them and ask them to look at the world very differently. They need to learn from the mistakes of others, or they will have to go out and make those mistakes themselves.

Thank you for your time.
Thomas Earthman

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