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Meddlesome Busybodiness in the Schools

Some eighth graders in Minnesota are assigned a book that might be “sensitive,” and their parents are bringing truth to power, or perhaps meddlesome busybodiness to the local school board. It’s probably one of those.

The parents first objected that their delicate little flowers were supposed to read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

So the school was very accommodating. When the book was taught in class, the delicate little flowers were sent out into the hallway where they could sit and twiddle their thumbs while the rest of the class engaged in whatever passes for literary education in middle school these days.

Some people are never happy, and the school should have known that catering to the whims of busybodies just emboldens them.

The parents of the delicate little flowers, or rather the delicate little flower parents of what are likely just normal students, consider that a form of punishment, and they want the book removed from the curriculum entirely so everyone in the class doesn’t have to know whose parents are meddlesome busybodies.

That’s the gist of it. It’s a typical battle between busybodies and everybody else just going about their business. But the rationales the parents use are worth mentioning.

According to one parent, “Parents have the right to teach their own values to their children regarding these topics and have assurance that a classroom teacher would teach those same values.”

Part of that is indeed true within obvious limits. Parents have the right to teach their children their own values, unless those values involve cannibalism or some such.

The high rates of teenage depression might be the result of parents teaching all their values, but that’s a small price to pay to make sure little Johnny is as narrow minded as his parents.

What those parents don’t have a right to is assurance that public school teachers will support every value the parents have. And what they don’t have a right to do is impose their narrow minded views on everyone else in the community. The arrogance of such people is quite stunning.

It’s a little complicated to understand this for some parents, so I’ll go slowly. You see, busybody parents, when your children leave your house they’re out in society. That means that whatever values you’re teaching in the home have to negotiate with all the other values other people are teaching.

Now if you really love your children, there’s a way to educate them, or perhaps “educate” them depending on the parents, while still protecting them from every influence outside of your house and your values.

You can homeschool your children. That way, they never have to encounter any idea or value that hasn’t been completely approved by you. It’s guaranteed! As long as you also don’t have a smartphone or television or computer with internet access.

Some homeschooling parents take their children to libraries and museums, but you don’t have to do that. You can keep your children in the house all day and teach them nothing, and as long as you fill out some forms with the state, probably nobody will bother you.

Parents who are really serious about isolating their children from the nefarious influence of public schools and other people who might disagree with their values do this all the time.

However, the way we can tell a parent who isn’t really serious about this is that instead of sheltering their delicate children from the rest of the world, they complain to public school boards and want to impose their narrow views on everyone else in the community.

They call those views “traditional family values,” but that phrase doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just a way to cloak their meddlesome busybodiness in something that sounds grander than it is.

What it really means is, “I’m morally superior to everyone else because I believe that I am, and everyone else in the community should do exactly what I say because of that.”

If they really cared about their children’s well being, they might consider what their meddlesome busybodiness is doing to their children. The early teen years are tough enough without having everyone in the school know that your parents are making a public fight against a book for reasons that any eighth grader likely considers no big deal.

Do these benighted parents really believe their children haven’t made it to eighth grade without hearing some dirty language and sex talk? And to they really believe that reading some of that in the context of a novel with themes teens identify with is going to warp their little dears?

Apparently they do, and that naivete alone is enough reason to ignore them, or the next best thing, have them fill out some forms for review by a committee later on, as the school board is doing. Forms, committees, and policies are the best defense against busybodies.

A plea to such parents: either shelter your kids completely or quit embarrassing them. There’s not another practical alternative.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. Alas. Critical self-reflection seems to be in short supply with parents who run in those circles.

  2. anonymous coward says:

    So- maybe if there was a robust system of school choice parents could select the school with the curriculum that best represents their values and a lot of these problems would be solved?!

  3. This isn’t a real article, right? It’s part of a research project or something? I don’t understand why LJ would publish this content.

    I agree with the main idea. I have received challenges and been annoyed myself. But this article makes me feel like I got cornered in the library breakroom by that mean-spirited coworker who complains about everything.

  4. It wouldn’t matter. Create a curriculum of Christian heavyweights and the busybodies will go after Augustine’s descriptions of his life before conversion and C.S. Lewis’s talking animals.

  5. I thought this was funny. Admittedly, sarcastic and snarky, but still, my mouth twisted into a smile when I read this. I understand that for some parents (especially those who might not read these books, themselves) that it can be daunting to consider that their child, upon reading a book like this, might have questions. Which might lead to uncomfortable discussions. And we wouldn’t want that, would we? Of course not.
    You get my snarky tone here, right?

  6. Anonymous coward, I think we disagree about the purpose of school – choice will never get us to the point where we have citizens willing to work together and sort through disagreements if we prefer to insulate children in bubbles of our preferred beliefs. The purpose of school is an educated citizenry, not a place to shove kids full of parents’ preferred ideology. School serves our society, not just parents and students. That’s why we all pay for schools!
    That said, I was told this year to limit my library purchases to what fit only the curriculum (the words were, “we don’t teach foster care and rape” so we shouldn’t have books about them. Staggering reasoning in a junior high Setting where students might be, you know, living those experiences.). I can’t imagine what they’d say if they learned there are classes using Alexie’s excellent book.
    I enjoy the snark, but it seems to me not teaching the kids whose parents object to the book is punishing those who don’t have a choice, normally you’d give them an alternate book and you could run your class with lit circles instead of whole-class, better outcomes anyway.

  7. anonymous coward says:

    I’m sorry- but we do fundamentally disagree. The purpose of schools is to educate, not indoctrinate. Well, they should be. This includes social responsibility and civic duty indoctrination. Parents, peers, and social orgs create good citizens, schools educate. 2 separate arenas acting on the same populations. We’d all be better off, imo, if we didn’t muddy the waters be trying to do both.

  8. This isn’t an article. It’s a blog post. A blog post by an author with an established tone. When you learn how to evaluate and understand what you’re reading, you’ll finely be ready to apply to library school.

  9. Libertarian Librarian says:

    Yep, have had this happen as a Catholic school librarian. The parent who didn’t want any teaching of the Holocaust (ironically a convert from Judaism) and wanted The Devil’s Arithmetic pulled. Fortunately the review committee said, “To bad, we’re mandated by the US Bishops to teach about the Holocaust.” Then there was the group of parents upset by what they THOUGHT was in Al Capone Does My Shirts. I had to point out that the teen pregnancy character they were concerned about was actually the married mother of a supporting character. Never let a good rumor get in the way of facts.

  10. This piece conveys the usual view of public school as cornerstone of democracy, conceived of as a space where different ideas and folks rub up against each other when young and are thus worn smooth and friendly, until all have learned to sublimate their differences before their common duties as citizens and reverence for America’s system of government. Duties aren’t emphasized so much anymore, nor the sublimation, I guess, but nevertheless – that’s the gist. China is something of a challenge to this education-democracy nexus, but whatever. It has the benefit of idealism.

    Less loftily, public education is the largest segment of an industry, one like any other except perhaps in its being undergirded by the law (for instance I see that compulsory pre-K is the next frontier). At any rate, it’s unusually well-insulated from shocks: a quick google yields a figure of $1.3 trillion for this huge and growing education sector.

    The bulk of it is executed in a fairly one-dimensional way throughout the country, thirteen years of your butt in a chair. Most Americans take advantage of this state-run supervision of their children.

    A very few choose something else.

    I wouldn’t have been among them, being far too lazy to homeschool, and, conveniently, unconvinced of the impact of education beyond the basics. But I would not call homeschoolers precisely “narrow,” in the sense of being unquestioning. They’ve questioned something pretty big (see above) and pretty damned hallowed. Of course, whatever materials they buy contribute in a tiny way to the above figure. But I think it is fair to say they’re the radicals in this dynamic, or heretics if you like – AL’s is the conventional, orthodox (but – horrors! – hopefully not “narrow”!) view.

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