Even though I don’t read for pleasure nearly as much as I wish I could, I value the importance and benefits of reading, especially with children. We’ve read to both of our sons since infancy and I think the consistency has (or will, in the case of Baby G) instill that reading, and more specifically language skills, is important.
My older son was an early talker and by way of that an early reader (the summer prior to kindergarten). I taught him to read using the Dick & Jane books that I learned to read with. I am sure there are other, newer ways to teach kids to read, but this worked for us. And now, at 6 1/2, he is an avid reader, reading many chapter books. He has an affinity for the Magic Treehouse, Jo Schmo, and Captain Underpants series. I love that he loves to read (he reads in car line, reads when we are on the way to the grocery, etc) and know that at some point other activities may impinge upon his love of reading so for now I encourage it.
He goes to an independent private school. I was hoping that that would also mean open-minded, progressive. Imagine my surprise when my son told me this morning, on his way out the door, that he was not allowed to read Captain Underpants in his classroom any more. I queried him as much as I could but all he said is that that is what his teacher said and that it was ok to read elsewhere on campus, just not in his classroom (they have individual reading times during the day).
I emailed his teacher to confirm that what he said was true and to explain why. Her response was that ‘some parents find it offensive so I have a policy to not allow it to be read during reading time’. I was shocked, frankly, and my ‘then we are going to have a problem’ meter went off. But, I didn’t respond and instead turned to Google and was even more shocked to find that the Captain Underpants series tops 2013 banned books list!
I don’t approve of potty language and as my son has gotten older, he doesn’t use it as much as he once did. And, reading these books hasn’t increased potty talk. He likes the plots and I think he identifies with the two boys that are at the center of each story. He finds their exploits funny and, as a result, is reading 100+ page, 20+ chapter books, something I encourage and applaud.
I think that his teacher taking a stand on banning these books is a slippery slope. I am offended by the scouts and was deeply offended when, at my first ever back to school night, the pack leader was invited to openly recruit first grade boys. I could not believe I was made to sit through his propaganda (and, yes, I get that the Cub Scouts are not the Boy Scouts, but since they are the feeder group, I treat them the same) wherein he basically said that all the boys participate and if yours doesn’t he’ll be left out. Given that this was my first introduction to my son’s teacher and the other parents, I held my tongue and instead, vented at my husband when I got home, but I did not have a sit-down with school administration and demand that the practice of openly recruiting at the school be stopped (something I may do now).
I have an issue with superhero and princess stories (anything that reinforces sexist paradigms) but don’t care that other kids love them. To each their own. But, I find violent superhero books way more offensive than potty books, yet, hey, if that’s what your kid likes, knock yourself out. However, what if that wasn’t my attitude? What if I called for a ban on those books or stories? There are many things in life that are going to offend us and how we respond and react is what is important. What message does it send to my son that he can’t read the books he loves? And, who gets a say? The parents that contribute the most to the annual fund? The parents on the board? The parents who have multiple children there?
What if we were vegan and were offended by meat should we call for a ban on animal products during lunch so that someone’s bologna sandwich wouldn’t infringe upon my son’s dietary sensibilities?
I have a live and let live attitude. When how you live encroaches on how I live, only then are we going to have a problem. I can’t imagine how my son reading a book TO HIMSELF encroaches on the sensitive minds of the other children who are not allowed to read it. And, if the child wonders why, isn’t it his parents job to explain it to him? I get that maybe the teacher wants to make it easy on herself and not have to referee that my son ‘gets’ to do something that other kids don’t. But, then, the same is true of Cub Scouts. Those kids ‘get’ to do something my kid doesn’t AND they ‘get’ to wear their scout uniform on pack meeting days to school but it is my job to explain why.
I have a headache over how frustrated I am and how, now, I am going to have to say something. As parents, we pick our battles. We pay a premium to attend this private school so the playing field needs to be fair to all. I don’t want my son to feel like he is doing something wrong by reading these books. I don’t want him to feel like he’s an outsider by not being in the scouts, but it is my job as his parent to talk him through these things. If I didn’t want him reading these books, we’d talk him through it just like we did when we didn’t allow him to watch SpongeBob Squarepants or Phineas and Ferb.
I find playing dodge ball to be harmful and we know that it is. But my son plays dodge ball during PE. I don’t require him to sit out. I don’t think the school should ban dodge ball. But, how they feel fine with kids pegging other kids with a ball but not fine with a child reading a book to himself is baffling to me.
I worry about bullying and the choking game and kids getting high on computer duster. I do not, however, worry about Captain Underpants.