A school district in the midwestern town of Erie, Ill. found Todd Parr’s award-winning children’s book objectionable because it included references to gay and lesbian families. The school board gave in to pressure from a small group of outspoken parents and decided to remove The Family Book, written and illustrated by Parr, from their elementary school’s social and emotional development curriculum. According to school district Superintendent Brad Cox, the concerned parents took issue with the fact that "the book references families with two mommies or two daddies."
The offending line in the book reads, "Some families have two moms or two dads." This brightly-illustrated page is placed within the context of other nontraditional family units such as families with a stepmom or stepdad, families with adopted children and single parent families.
Parr explained his inspiration for writing books. "Everything that I try and do is about inclusion. It means all of us,” he wrote. “It means bringing people together. Helping them feel good about themselves while learning about differences."
By banning The Family Book the Erie school district is missing the main point and an opportunity to teach both tolerance and acceptance. They are sidestepping an important family lesson in diversity and inclusion and opting instead to promote a school climate of shame and conformity.
They are also ignoring the growing number of households with same sex partners. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of same-sex couples raising children has more than doubled in the past 10 years, from 8 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2010.
The reality is that children talk about their families everyday in school. They mention their moms, their dads or perhaps their two moms or two dads. It’s a huge part of their lives.
Recently, I read a book aloud to my first-grade students wherein the author describes Halloween decorations as gay. One boy giggled when I read that. I explained that the author meant the decorations were happy and colorful. I asked him why he giggled. He explained that gay had another meaning, "It means when a boy loves a boy or a girl loves a girl." Another student shared that her aunt just got married to a woman and her mom went to the wedding. I asked, "How was that?” She replied, "It was fine. I had someone to take care of me." She was more focused on who was babysitting than on her aunt marrying a woman, but noted the union as part of her family. As I continued reading aloud the author once again described the party as gay. This time there were no giggles.
There is no reason to shield children from reality. My years of experience teaching young children have shown me that they can handle such diversity with openness and acceptance.
When creating The Family Book, Todd Parr thought about his own childhood and looked for ways to write about all the different kinds of families in the world and help kids—and their families—feel good no matter what kind of family they have.
Everyone’s family is special and important. And that is the message the folks in Erie need to embrace.
Wellbrock is an early elementary teacher working with both deaf and hearing students in New York City.
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