Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools
Gail Horalek, the mother of a seventh grader in Northville, has taken issue with the school district for using an unedited version of Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl, in the curriculum at Meads Mill Middle School. There were certain passages that made her daughter feel uncomfortable, so Mrs. Horalek has brought her concerns to the district.
This is my second time, in as many years, jumping into a debate over a challenged book. Last February, it was a fiery debate in Plymouth over Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The parents who brought that complaint were treated terribly; smeared by the district’s supporters, and attacked by media outlets around the country. I felt compelled to write, not because of the contents of a book, but because of how poorly people were treating each other.
I won’t be drawn into this endless debate over censorship. Every device we own has a set of parental controls. Movies and television shows are rated. Mom chastises dad for using cuss words at the dinner table. Censorship is a part of parenting; the issue begins with what’s being censored, and who’s doing the censoring.
I can see both sides of the issue. Our freedom of speech and press should be valued and defended, but sometimes that means standing up for those you disagree with. Civil liberty is not a one way street. I assume that those who disagree with Mrs. Horalek, also respect her right to express her opinion to the school district; or does freedom of speech only apply to those who wish to fling insults at her?
Parents have different thoughts about what is appropriate for their children. Differences in opinion are healthy for the public discourse. What’s not healthy, however, is a group of rabid attack dogs in the media; waiting to pounce on any parent audacious enough to question public school curriculum. That’s what happened to the concerned parents last year in Plymouth, and what’s happening now to Gail Horalek.
Horalek was advised to fill out a form for a formal complaint to which the teacher has five days to respond. If the parent is still unsatisfied with the response, the form is brought to the principal who has another five days to respond. It then goes to the school board, which does not have a time frame in which to respond, Horalek said.
Reportedly, “Not wanting the issue to continue before reaching the school board’s attention, Horalek said she emailed Robert Behnke, assistant superintendent for Instructional Services, telling him she had started the formal complaint process.”
This story is now making the media rounds, drawing some disproportionately vicious attacks from those who disagree with Gail. The story appeared in MSN’s newsfeed, where the author had this to say about Mrs. Horalek:
Horalek believes the school should have gotten parents’ OK before assigning the “pornographic” book to seventh-graders; now she wants the unedited version of the diary removed from classrooms. Too much time on her hands, maybe?
The folks at MSN seem to be mocking Gail Horalek, for actually taking the time to care about what her daughter is being exposed to. After all, MSN and the school district know more about what is appropriate for Gail’s daughter than she does. This is a perfect example of an idea that has permeated the media and public education, this idea assumes that your parenting philosophy is everyone else’s business. It takes a village to raise a child, and the village knows what’s appropriate for your child. MSNBC weekend host Melissa Harris-Perry explained this view in this way:
We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children… We have to break through our kind of private idea; that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families.
The message being sent to parents is clear: Keep your mouth shut when it comes to public school curriculum, unless you want to be fodder for an internet smear campaign. Your job as a parent-educator is expected to end when your child enters universal Pre-K. Standards of appropriateness will now be decided by the state, not you, so quit rocking the boat.
This is the sad shape of our current discourse, where folks can sit at their computers and hurl insults at people they don’t even know. It’s a form of intimidation that makes people afraid to express their opinion in a free society. This is an affront to the concept of civil liberty. You don’t have to agree with Gail Horalek, but she deserves to be treated with a little more respect.
I wrote these words last year in Plymouth, they are just as applicable now:
There is a double standard at work in the school district. It threatens freedom of speech when parents and students feel intimidated by teachers, administrators, and local media outlets. People in our community should feel safe to speak their minds in a public setting, it’s part of community investment.
Debate, and differences of opinion are an integral part of life in our country; intimidation and character assassination should not be.
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