‘Jacob’s New Dress’: When Politicians Become Bullies

Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship, General Interest, School Libraries

By: April Dawkins

On March 21, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (NC) chose to voluntarily pull Jacob’s New Dress from a lesson on anti-bullying because Republican legislators in the state’s General Assembly were up in arms. The book was intended to be part of an anti-bullying lesson being piloted in first grade classes in four elementary schools as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month. The lesson is a part of a series from a new anti-bullying program called Welcoming Schools, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Jacob’s New Dress is a picture book by Sarah and Ian Hoffman. The story begins with children playing in the dress-up corner of their classroom. Jacob wants to dress like a princess and is picked on by another boy in his class, Christopher, who tells him to put on the knight’s armor, because “that’s what the boys wear.” Jacob goes home and talks with his mom about his day. His mom and his teacher are very supportive of Jacob. The teacher tells the class, “Jacob wears what he’s comfortable in. Just like you do. Not very long ago little girls couldn’t wear pants. Can you imagine that?” The author’s note for the book explains how parents and teachers can be supportive of students who are gender non-conforming.

The controversy arose because a teacher in one of the four schools raised concerns about the book. Apparently, this concern reached Raleigh and state legislators. The state legislators then contacted the CMS Board of Education which was unaware of the inclusion of this particular book. In describing the decision to remove the book from the lesson, one board member said, “I think there are ways that we could have incorporated that kind of communication and that type of a curriculum with our students to make sure people are treating everybody respectfully without really going that far and it just feels like we went too far.”

Why this abrupt decision and interest by the General Assembly? It’s a simple answer: HB2. The controversial bathroom bill, passed by the NC General Assembly, requires individuals to use the restrooms of the gender assigned to them at birth regardless of how they now identify. There’s much more to the legislation, but the bathroom part is what everyone talks about. HB2 was originally passed in reaction to the Charlotte City Council’s decision to add LGBT protections to city ordinances. If you’d like to see more about the decision and its impact, check out this timeline. In its coverage of the decision, The Charlotte Observer points out that this decision comes at the same time the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board is considering adding sexual orientation and “gender identify/expression” to a policy on multiculturalism.

What concerns me about this whole process is that there was no process. The book was removed from the lesson without public discussion and without following reconsideration procedures. What do you think?


 

April DawkinsApril Dawkins is currently a doctoral candidate in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina. Her research focus for her doctoral dissertation is understanding the factors that influence decisions around selection in school libraries and the role of self-censorship. April is part of the NxtWave program funded by an IMLS grant, a national cohort of Ph.D. students whose focus is school librarianship. As a graduate teaching assistant with SLIS, April is teaching Information Literacy and Young Adult Materials. Prior to her doctoral studies, April served for 15 years as a high school media specialist in North Carolina. She is also a past president of the North Carolina School Library Media Association. April also serves on the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. Find her on Twitter @aprldwkns.

3 comments

  • This goes beyond North Carolina and HB2. A member or members of the Republican Caucus of the Iowa Senate demanded that the State Library of Iowa cancel a post-conference scheduled to be presented with our biennial statewide conference for youth services librarians. The half-day post-conference was entitled “Askable Adults Matter,” to be presented by one of our teen librarians and a co-presented from Planned Parenthood. The state librarian cancelled the post-conference. I’m happy to say that the Iowa Library Association, not under the thumb of the state legislature, will offer this as a preconference in October.

  • There is a selection and deselection process in place in every school system in North Carolina. The CWS board bypassed it.

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