Kyle Troutman: Stand on the porch

Saturday, January 15, 2022

School districts generally try to stay out of politics, but that has never stopped politics from finding its way into schools.

Such was the case this week for the two largest school districts in Barry County — Monett and Cassville.

At Monett, word began spreading of a book being deemed unfit for assigned reading. Sure enough, “Dear Martin” had been axed from the freshman English I assignment list, replaced with the ever-maligned “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

The book is about a Yale-bound African American teen at a mostly white high school who is involved in a racially motivated police incident, forcing him to confront racism and injustice through writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King.

Concern about the book arose because of its branding by some as promoting critical race theory, a group of concepts used for examining the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country, especially in the United States.

Monett Superintendent Mark Drake said the matter was more simple. Because of its content, the book required a permission slip be sent home to parents to allow students to read it. Any book that requires a slip should first be submitted to administration for approval, which did not occur.

In the email to parents, the high school apologized for the stress the situation has caused Monett families. Furthermore, Drake said the district is planning a committee process of vetting books to avoid similar situations in the future.

The question going forward is, would “Dear Martin” be considered by that committee, and if disallowed, why?

There’s irony, too, in the replacement. “To Kill A Mockingbird” has been banned in one way or another since it was written. In the ‘60s, it was immoral for using rape as a theme, then in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was banned for its “filthy” content, like racial slurs.

Even last year the book was banned in some areas for racial slurs and featuring a “white savior” character and its perception of the black experience.

I’m not sure if “Dear Martin” will be as classic as the Harper Lee novel, but I wonder how both of these books will be viewed in another 20 years.

The other school-related political issue occurred in Cassville, where a parent’s viral Facebook post stirred a cauldron of emotion and opinion.

The parent aimed to warn other parents of children in intermediate school about a transgender child attending their chosen gender’s puberty education class, thereby causing too much embarrassment and discomfort.

Cassville Superintendent Merlyn Johnson said from the school’s perspective, the law prevents discrimination, and the district treats all children equally.

In this case, since everyone, including the trans student, is probably embarrassed and uncomfortable, why not take a different path?

Instead of dividing students by gender, have co-ed sessions in a more classroom setting to educate about both genders.

I may be asking for an unattainable level of maturity from kids that have only been on the earth for a decade, but I think down the road, a little cross-gender education might help foster more understanding and empathy for one another.

In both Monett’s and Cassville’s cases, the schools are caught in a battle of parents perpetuated by society, and in some sense, the media.

At the root of both issues is the simplest of notions, parents trying to protect their kids. While that is of the utmost important, it is also important that children be encouraged to understand others’ experiences and use that knowledge to make themselves and the people around them better.

“Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Monett Times since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-235-3135 or editor@monett-times.com.

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