The growing censorship of books and ideas in public schools across the nation uses the prevention of discomfort of our students as its excuse disguised as its justification. If discomfort is a real concern, we may want to look more carefully at the real discomfort from which we should try to protect our children.
If state legislatures and school boards do not want students to be discomforted from depictions of historical and ongoing structural discrimination and social injustices, how are they protecting students of color and LGBT students from the real discomfort experienced every day without proactive discussion and action?
If state legislatures and school boards want students to be aware of the Constitution’s Second Amendment on the right to bear arms, how are they protecting students from the reality of school shootings that they are really experiencing without proactive discussion and action?
If state legislatures and school boards want students to be aware of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment on the protection from unreasonable searches, how to they protect students from the discomfort and bewilderment from watching the no-knock killings of Breonna Taylor and Amir Locke on their TVs without proactive discussion and action?
If state legislatures and school boards want students to develop a critical examination of ideas and free expression, how do we protect students from the gaslighting from the selection of approved speech by state legislatures and local boards?
I am not saying that feeling discomfort should not be a concern for teachers. It should be. But the way to deal with it should be more discussion and not less. I remember that as a student many years ago, I was asked to read a novel that was deeply disturbing to me at the time. The story was about the pioneers building a new life for themselves, and one of the main characters was undergoing an obsession over her religious beliefs. It came at a time when my own religious beliefs were challenged and waning. But that part of the novel was never discussed, even in those days. The concern of the day’s lesson was on the kind of structures and materials the pioneers were using in the construction of their houses. And so a troubled adolescent was left to struggle with these confusing emotions alone. If English teachers were not able to discuss the emotions generated by the novel, biology teachers were even more hesitant to explain the nature of a scientific understanding of the world. Young people pick up what is going on when a teacher responds to a student’s inquiry on the conflicting views of the origin of the universe with, “I will talk about that at the end of the course,“ but the end of the course never came.
It is interesting that other institutions that affect the development of our children were also of no help. One might think that the institution of the church would help in the quest of these questions. But they also failed in those days. Trying to make their religious message relevant to adolescents, they focused on some polemic instruction early in the evening followed by music and partying. Responding to the real questions and concerns that an adolescent might want to raise was somehow not seen as a possible motivation for their being there. And so the institutions in our community failed our children.
I fear that what was a covert reality then is an open, overt one now. The discomfort we need to be shielded from is the one brought about by the silence to confront reality -- best done in the environment of a caring and responsive teacher. Silence is discomforting.