Picking books for public schools

Regardless of their political leanings, many parents would likely agree on the necessity of protecting children from harm and nurturing their faculties of empathy and critical thinking. In the United States, those two responsibilities now sit at the heart of a vigorous debate about dignity and the rights of individuals to make their own choices on reading material in public schools.

The immediate issue involves attempts to restrict or expand books and courses that address themes like violence, teen mental health, race, sexual orientation, and gender. Some parents worry their children are being exposed to graphic and confusing influences. Others are just as concerned about the effects of limiting what their children are allowed to read. Their concerns are reflected in state legislatures and Congress, which collectively are weighing 119 bills affecting education materials.

Parents on both sides share a concern about the welfare of children. In many communities, that commonality is proving more unifying than divisive. In school board meetings and parent town halls from Connecticut to Texas, at the level where neighbors sit with neighbors, the spike in efforts to control the choice of books in schools is resulting in new civic vigor tempered by reason and respect.

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