Friday, June 29, 2012

Families Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Teaching Tolerance has published my latest blog post entitled Families Come in All Shapes and Sizes.  You can find it by clicking here (I also included it below).

A school district in the midwestern town of Erie, Ill. found Todd Parr's award-winning children's book objectionable because it included references to gay and lesbian families.  The school board gave in to pressure from a small group of outspoken parents and decided to remove The Family Book, written and illustrated by Parr, from their elementary school's social and emotional development curriculum.

According to the school district Superintendent Brad Cox, the concerned parents took issue with the fact that "the book references families with two mommies or two daddies."

The offending line in the book reads, "Some families have two moms or two dads."  This brightly illustrated page is placed within the context of other nontraditional family units such as families with a stepmom or stepdad, families with adopted children and single parent families.

Parr explained his inspiration for writing books.  "Everything that I try and do is about inclusion.  It means all of us," he said.  "It means bringing people together.  Helping them feel good about themselves while learning about differences."

By banning The Family Book the Erie school district is missing the main point and an opportunity to teach both tolerance and acceptance. They are sidestepping an important family lesson in diversity and inclusion and opting instead to promote a school climate of shame and conformity.

They are also ignoring the growing number of households with same sex partners.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of same-sex couples raising children has more than doubled in the past 10 years, from 8 percent in 2000 to 19 percent in 2010.

The reality is that children talk about their families everyday in school. They mention their moms, their dads or perhaps their two moms or two dads.  It's a huge part of their lives.

Recently, I read a book aloud to my first-grade students wherein the author describes Halloween decorations as gay.  One boy giggled when I read that.  I explained that the author meant the decorations were happy and colorful.  I asked him why he giggled.  He explained that gay had another meaning, "It means when a boy loves a boy or a girl loves a girl."

Another student shared that her aunt just got married to a woman and her mom went to the wedding.  I asked, "How was that?"  She replied, "It was fine.  I had someone to take care of me."  She was more focused on who was babysitting than on her aunt marrying a woman, but noted the union as part of her family.  As I continued reading aloud the author once again described the party as gay.  This time there were no giggles.

There is no reason to shield children from reality.  My years of experience teaching young children have shown me that they can handle such diversity with openness and acceptance.

When creating The Family Book, Todd Parr thought about his own childhood and looked for ways to write about all the different kinds of families in the world and help kids--and their families--feel good no matter what kind of family they have.

Everyone's family is special and important.  And that is the message the folks in Erie need to embrace.


Hilary said...

It's disheartening to me that some folks can't see the harm they cause by shielding their children from what they are unable to see as a loving union and family.

Some fear change and progression and want their world to remain neat and orderly and black and white. Thankfully, most children are more open-minded than that, and at least by the time they are of school age, they have the opportunity to learn from more than one source. It's a process.

Congrats on having your post published. :)

Rebecca said...

Beautiful article Gary. Although its really upsetting about "the ban" in Erie, I'm hopeful this ignorant act is pushing people to think and take action. Sometimes it's only when you have to pick a side that you actually commit to something. As Erie continues to see how others view their actions, hopefully they will be embarrassed.

(incidentally - the local town library didn't take on the ban. I sent them a copy of the book - which they happily accepted for their kids collection).

Angella Lister said...

congrats on this. i'm glad you're out t here doing the important work.

Todd Parr said...

Thanks, Gary!

Gloria said...

It's really a shame how small minded some people can be.

Gary said...

Thanks Hilary. It is indeed a progression, a process. I certainly appreciate that. I think it is a good thing this happened because it has helped move things forward a bit. It promotes discussion. Eventually it'll be a nonissue and part of the fabric of our diverse lives. Todd has shown love, patience, compassion and humor throughout the storm. That speaks volumes.

Go Rebecca! That is fantastic!

Angella - I am glad I have a place to put forth my opinions and thoughts. And I thank you for sharing and supporting it.

Todd - Thank YOU!

Gloria - We all have our small minded moments and hopefully we can be gently guided away from it.

Amy Simmonds said...

Thank you so much for standing up for this book. I read this book every year. I have had a few families object and even go to the school board about it. Fortunately, they did not give in to the horrendous viewpoints from a few in our community. Bravo, Todd Parr!

Ms.M said...

I love these books for that very same reason. Actually when I teach about families Todd Parrs books are the only ones I use. I pull in other books and highlight families but these books are the main selections. Love them.

Did you get a visit from TP? I can't remember but if you did I have to admit I am so envious. :P


Gary said...

Hi Amy,

Thanks for visiting and sharing you support for The Family Book. Brava to you!

Ms. M. - Todd has not yet visited our school but he is very receptive to it. It has been a few years since he traveled to NYC but we hope to pin him down when he does. I met Todd at a book reading/signing at the main public library in NYC a few years ago and we've been friends ever since. He is amazingly generous and kind. I think that comes across in everything he does. Check his website to see if he will be near you for an event.

Ms.M said...

Ok your friends, like on talking terms? Now I'm no longer envious but jealous. :P I will go check his website, but if you ever hear him say he is going to NE you tell him he is ALWAYS welcomed in my class! :)


Arielle Lee Bair said...

I'm so glad you stood up for this book. Good for you!!!


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