Moore County Schools — for now — will keep in two school media centers the children’s novel “George,” in which the young protagonist grapples — and comes to terms — with her gender identity. By the predictable 4-3 margin last Monday evening, the Board of Education supported the recommendation of a district-wide ad hoc committee to keep the book available for students.
But rest assured, Moore County itself is not done grappling — nor has it come to terms — with the types of literature it should make available to students.
In the near term, the decision over “George” will likely remain contested. Board member Philip Holmes, who pushed for its removal and came out on the short end of Monday’s vote, has vowed to mount a new challenge.
“I’ve got a little girl and I do not want her to be exposed to penises bobbing in the water,” he said, referencing a passage in the book.
And with three school board seats up for election this November, a new board could — and likely would — choose a different outcome for books and more.
School boards across the country, historically some of the more overlooked and underappreciated local government apparatuses, are at the forefront of this nation’s culture wars. For more than a year now, opponents of sitting boards have been turning issues into value-oriented debates on everything from race to safety to sex.
Specifically, there is an outspoken desire to establish Judeo-Christian ethics as the guideposts for decision making. Those who support stronger “values-based education” look at books like “George” as pornographic and inappropriate for schools. They see Critical Race Theory — a subject not even taught in most public schools — as divisiveness and threatening of established norms. And they speak of public schools as cauldrons of chaos, pocked by rampant assaults and permissive attitudes by staff.
According to this perspective, teaching inclusiveness and respect for differences and accounting for lifestyle decisions, health choices and emotional well-being are inappropriate for schools. Instead, schools should focus solely on hard-core, non-controversial academics with curricula pre-approved by parents.
“Our public education system’s philosophy needs a complete overhaul as it engages in eroding what the goal of education should be: to raise our children up to be constitutional educated Americans with Judeo- Christian values,” said Matthew Hintz, one of the public speakers during Monday night’s board meeting.
It all harkens back to a “good old day” that was never particularly good for a lot of students who were left out or ignored.
Reason, Respect Win
No one questions the value of values, but values are also highly personal and relative. While someone like Holmes may not want his daughter to have access to a book like “George,” other parents want their children to be able to read it. Some don’t want their children to participate in middle school sex education, or engage in surveys about health behaviors, while others do.
The student body is not homogenous; it really never was, it just wasn’t accounted for. The lives and backgrounds and experiences children bring to the classroom need understanding, not ignorance.
Imposing one set of values — injecting personal beliefs over best professional and rational practice — restricts learning and disrespects the many cultures, faiths, backgrounds and life experiences that children hold.
School board member Stacey Caldwell nailed it the other night when she demonstrated the duality of the conflict. “There will always be books out there,” she said, “that are ‘too scary’ or ‘inappropriate,’ because we all carry different values for our family.”
On one hand, she did not like having the book “George” in an elementary school but did support it for middle and high schools.
“I think about how this is going to help every child in Moore County Schools, not just my own. With that being said, my personal views on this story ‘George’ are irrelevant.”
Monday was a win for reason and respect. Alas, the larger debate wages on.