Sunday, March 09, 2008

Welcome Back, Tango

You will recall last month's story about a children's book, And Tango Makes Three, which was removed from a school library because it allegedly promoted homosexuality. You'll be pleased to know that Tango has been readmitted to Sugarland Elementary School. Unfortunately, the right decision was made for the wrong reason.

According to Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III, Tango is back on the shelves because the Loudoun County resident who protested the book's inclusion in the school library does not have any children in the Loudoun County school system and is thereby disqualified from challenging library materials. This rationale is so absurd that I don't know where I should begin a critique.

I'll begin with the challenger's non-parental status. The initial report of the challenge (which could have been mistaken) described the challenger as "a parent at Sugarland Elementary" school. Surely, the challenger's status should have been verified by a school district official fairly early in the process. The book was reviewed at both the school and the district levels, processes that did not occur over just a day or two. Yet, as the matter developed, it seems that nobody bothered to find out exactly who this person was. Moreover, nobody, particularly at the district level (or in the superintendent's office), realized that the person's parental status just might be important. Assuming for the sake of argument that the proffered rationale is accurate, just think of all the grief that could have been saved if some school official somewhere along the chain of command had done a bit of homework.

Of course, another possibility is that Superintendent Hatrick was so embarrassed by the national ridicule heaped upon him that he responded by scouring the manuals to find some obscure rule (please god, any rule), or to devise a rule, by which he could justify a reversal of his initial dimwitted decision.

Another point that should be raised is this: the notion that only parents with children in the public school system can criticize curriculum, including library materials, is ludicrous. Any citizen who pays the taxes that support the public school system has, or should have, the right to propose, criticize, challenge and debate curricular materials. If the rule that Hatrick cited actually exists (if it didn't, it does now), it should not. Parents, students, teachers, school district employees and administrators are not the only stakeholders in public education. If any of those parties ever seek to exclude the citizenry at large from participating in curricular decisions, they must be prevented from doing so. Notwithstanding the fact that the complaint about Tango was ridiculous, the principle that all citizens have huge stakes in the public schools must never be jettisoned.

My final point is that Superintendent Hatrick's rationale for reversing his decision is vapid. One consequence of his shallow reasoning is that he missed a huge opportunity to engage the public in a "teachable moment." The technicalities of residency and parental status pale in comparison to the grandeur of the values he should have cited. The right reasons for reversing his decision, the ones that he should have claimed - the ones that he should have embraced - are that Americans abhor censorship and cherish freedom of speech. These are the best of all reasons for greeting Tango with a hearty "welcome back."


Jenn said...

no matter the reason, at least it's back!

Dave said...

Hatrick found a technicality to allow him to reverse the decision. I am sure a parent will lodge a complaint but it will die. He will not step into that hornet's nest again.

Stephen said...


I am a little sympathetic towards Hatrick as I have found myself at times being a reactionary before I see the full picture. He certainly did miss an opportunity to use this to engage the wider community into what could have become a positive experience. Oh if only we could have the wisdom of Solomon in every difficult situation we come upon.