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Scholastic versus moms and dads

Parents, not publishers, should decide what children read


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Scholastic versus moms and dads
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Four decades ago, I began my elementary school journey. I don’t remember many things about those years, but a few fond memories stand out. Every spring we tried out our skills at the 40-yard dash and tug of war during Field Day. We spent the last day of each term watching a movie like Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows. The high point in the cafeteria each week was the square pizza slices and corn nibblets served every Friday. And every year, we hosted the Scholastic Book Fair.

I was a bookish kid, so I especially loved the book fair. The Scholastic catalog would be passed out a few weeks in advance, so that we knew which books would be available. I would circle all the books I wanted, then negotiate with my parents about how many they were willing to buy. Our family didn’t have much money in those years, but Mom and Dad made sure I always left the book fair with a bag full of books. My own kids have grown up reading many of the same books that I first purchased from Scholastic in the 1980s.

In recent weeks, the Scholastic Book Fair has become embroiled in controversy. In response to the growing number of states that have passed laws restricting the influence of critical race theory and intersectionality in public schools, Scholastic separated out several dozen of its titles that address matters of race, gender, and sexuality. Those titles, which school boards could choose whether to include in their book fairs or not, were part of a separate catalog called “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice.”

Scholastic was simply trying to adapt their business model to the reality on the ground, though the publisher made clear it did not like the situation. The response from the left was fast and furious. The progressive free-speech organization PEN America denounced Scholastic for kowtowing to bigotry and contributing to book bans and accommodating censorship. Predictably, Scholastic backtracked and issued an apology to authors and illustrators, expressing solidarity in the fight against laws or policies that restrict children’s access to books.

One does not need to embrace faddish social-scientific theories informed by cultural Marxism to oppose various forms of bigotry.

We must think through the clash of worldviews that is behind these events. Scholastic, Pen America, and their allies insinuate that rejecting progressive theories about race, gender, and sexuality is morally equivalent to embracing racism, sexism, and homophobia. They assert that children should have access to any book that is written for a younger readership, regardless of content. They imply that parents, lawmakers, or others raising concerns about progressive content in children’s books is in some way damaging children. They think they know what is best for young people.

Social conservatives need to flip the script on this narrative and challenge the worldview behind every one of the above contentions. One does not need to embrace faddish social-scientific theories informed by cultural Marxism to oppose various forms of bigotry. In the case of the LGBTQ movement, opposing sexual immorality is not bigotry just because it happens to be countercultural. The fact that a book is written for children does not, by definition, make it appropriate for children. Content matters. Parents have an obligation to monitor what their children read—especially their young children. Parents have the right to advocate that government schools, funded by their taxpayer dollars, not indoctrinate their children with objectionable content.

Scholastic may claim that what it simply wants most is for children to delight in reading. No doubt this is true as far as it goes. But Scholastic is also a business, and like a growing number of businesses, Scholastic has cast its lot with those who claim to trumpet freedom, but only the freedom to reject a Biblical vision of authentic human flourishing. The same progressives who denounce “censorship” when parents don’t want their children reading books about transgenderism applaud Amazon when it bans a title that argues against transgenderism. The goal for progressives isn’t really freedom but rather the power to remake American culture in the image of their idols—beginning with our children.

Public school classrooms will continue to be a major front in the culture wars precisely because the stakes are so high. Scholastic has made clear which side it is on. Discerning parents will continue to monitor closely what their children are reading, whether in the classroom or in their bedroom. Many of them should also consider purchasing their books from companies that are less obvious in their disdain for the rights of parents to have a say in the education of their children.


Nathan A. Finn

Nathan A. Finn is professor of faith and culture and directs the Institute for Transformational Leadership at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. He is a research fellow for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and is senior editor for Integration: A Journal of Faith and Learning. He also serves as teaching pastor at the First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C.


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