Thursday, February 04, 2010

Sheltering = protecting. But what's too much?

Just reading about this made me want to weep. I want to cry for the lack of good sense and “live and let live” philosophy that seems to have abandoned our society. It also makes me want to send cheerful little “hang in there” cards to some of the parents living in the North Kansas City School District.

But first, let’s review the truth behind the headlines, shall we? Several years ago, Zookeepers at New York’s Central Park Zoo observed Silo and Roy, two male chinstrap penguins, trying to hatch a rock in order to begin their family. When another penguin family rejected one of their eggs, Silo and Roy took it in. The two males adopted the egg, hatched it and raised the chick, called Tango, as their own. According to a senior keeper at the zoo, the male penguins behaved exactly as the male/female set of parents when caring for a chick. (Except they didn’t abandon their egg.)

That’s the “live and let live” part of this story. Honest to God, stuff like this is interesting to me but only marginally so. I’m not prone to what some might call histrionics. In other words, I’m not horrified and appalled at the prospect of two male penguins raising a chick, nor am I simply delighted and entranced with the news. It just “is” if you know what I mean.

That didn’t stop children’s book authors Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, along with illustrator Henry Cole from creating And Tango Makes Three, which tells the story of Silo, Roy and Tango. Since its publication, it has caused parents scattered around the country undue angst. They don’t welcome a “children’s” book (for ages 4 – 8) that discusses or espouses a point of view about what they see as a controversial subject, including the idea of same sex couples raising a child.

There are all kinds of people in the world and we all don’t agree. But for me, I don’t have the energy required to get all charged up about gay couples (penguin or human) raising a child together if they choose to do so. God bless and good luck to you. I know lots of straight people who seem like they’re good parents (but may not be) and gay people who seem like they’d make good parents (but may not be). Who can say?

Point is, the book was written, and people loved it or hated it. Dozens of protests later, not to mention after seeing it listed on the 'most banned books' lists for several years, can’t we leave it alone?

No; no we can’t. I just read about the School Board in North Kansas City that voted to keep the book on library shelves but not without punishing parents. As if we don’t have enough to do, the district has now added the elementary school card catalog online, which now lists every book in the entire district’s system. So now if you don’t want your elementary school child to read And Tango Makes Three, you can hop online and create your own banned books list on his or her behalf.

My own children are beyond the public school system, but I can tell you this right now: I would not have had nearly enough interest, energy, fear or time to review every book in the district’s system, and then create a “may not check out” list for my children. If that makes me neglectful, so be it. If it makes me permissive and too hands-off, fine. I accept.

When my boys were growing up, we made a deal. Once they were old enough to choose their own reading material, they could. But for every book they chose, they agreed to read a book I recommended. And when they read a book that I knew contained language that felt more “adult” to me, I addressed it like this: The words and expressions in that book are the choice of the writer to tell his or her story, selected for specific reasons. His choice / her choice: not mine. Read them and enjoy the book, but I don’t want to hear them from you. You know how we talk to each other in this house and cursing at each other doesn’t work for me. Deal?

Seems to have worked out so far. I’m no saint but I do appreciate polite language, especially around a home with children in it. Not one of my kids has ever cursed at me or their father. I’ve never had to apologize for language they used that offended someone nearby, and for me, that feels good.

What does this have to do with penguins and online card catalogs and banned books lists? It’s really all about control and restriction. About possibly passing along prejudice from generation to generation. About not being open to unfamiliar ideas or different points of view and making sure your children aren’t either.

To me, that’s unfortunate. And ultimately pointless. After all, your kids will be thumbing through the card catalog of life before you know it.

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