Let parents decide on controversial books for students

The decision by many Wichita-area school districts to withhold a book about a transgender fourth-grader from elementary libraries is an important reminder about parents’ roles in education.

To be clear: “George” should be on the shelves, but parents should decide whether their student should read it.

The Wichita district’s chief librarian supplied all of the books from this year’s William Allen White series — which promotes the best books of the year to Kansas students — except “George.” Four of 57 elementary or K-8 schools obtained copies on their own.

It’s understandable — and healthy — that the book has been a focus of discussion. But officials and librarians who have decided not to make the book available have either stepped in for disinterested parents or taken the road that will cause the least disturbance.

The book, at a reading level for ages 8-12, sounds two alarms for many. One is language (including “porn” and “grow some balls”) that some believe isn’t appropriate for that age. The other is a transgender life that parents might rather their children not read about until they are older and more mature.

Parents know their children best. They know if their children are ready to handle questionable language or discussion about transgender people. And just because parents decide their 8-year-old child is not ready for either or both types of content does not make them intolerant or unwilling to talk about difficult topics. It means they are being good parents.

Proponents for making the book available have good arguments. Transgender students are real. The book chronicles a transgender life well.

“Books are written to be mirrors or windows to the world – either I see myself in a book, or I learn about someone else’s experience and learn empathy,” said a Wichita librarian who has the book.

“George” is not on many library shelves because school officials are making decisions best left to parents.

A better option is to have the book, make parents aware of its contents, and let them decide its appropriateness for their student.