So, the New York Post is outraged today that a book titled, "The Librarian of Basra" could become part of the third-grade curriculum for New York City public school students. The Post warns that the book has "startlingly realistic portrayals of war" and illustrations which show "fighter planes dropping bombs on a palm-tree-lined Middle Eastern town." And, naturally, the Post is incensed because, Won't somebody please think about the children? Or something. Yes, the same tabloid that published a cover photo of a man about to be struck and killed by a subway thinks that third-graders are too young to be exposed to such violent images. Or, at least, American third-graders are too young to be exposed to this kind of thing. Iraqi third-graders have been exposed to this kind of thing for at least ten years now. But who cares about them? Not the Post.
But so, I think this is ridiculous. Whitewashing history for children's sake is insensitive to the reality that they live in the same world that the rest of us do. Would the Post prefer that adults also ignore what actually happened in Iraq? Well, yes, sure. But I guess that's not really the point right now. But so anyway, obviously, children are not emotionally or intellectually equipped to handle all the realities of war and its consequences (although, are any of us?) but no one is suggesting that third-graders watch "Apocalypse Now." And in terms of teaching kids about the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a huge difference between taking an 8-year-old to "The Hurt Locker" or "Zero Dark Thirty" and having them read an illustrated text that attempts to relate an aspect of what living in Iraq during wartime feels like. Which, obviously. And it's not just the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan that school kids could benefit from learning about. Here's some other things where the truth can't hurt, it can only illuminate.
Considering the fact that testimony in a current stop-and-frisk lawsuit, now being heard by a federal court, is based on the experiences of a then-thirteen-year-old boy, I think all Brooklyn schoolchildren should learn about this legally-dubious NYPD practice. After all, it's never too early to learn about the Constitution, especially a little thing called the 4th Amendment. And this will be particularly pertinent information for all of the male African-American and Latino schoolchildren, since it is a statistical probability that they will get stopped-and-frisked at least once in their lives.
Slavery Was Legal in Brooklyn Until 1827
The simple Civil War narrative of the North being good and the South being bad might not be widely accepted currency amongst adults anymore (or maybe it is? I don't even want to think too hard about how ignorant Americans are about history because, depressing) but it would be a shame not to give our children a proper educational foundation. And what that foundation would include is the fact that New York was the largest slave-holding state north of Maryland and didn't outlaw slavery until 1827—more than 200 years after it was introduced by the Dutch. Brooklyn, in particular, had an economy that was reliant on slave-labor because of its many farms. Teaching children this reality will broaden their perspective and let them know that the issues of the past, distant as they might seem, are just as complex as the issues of today. There are no easy narratives.
Why So Many People In New York Are In Prison
It's never too early to learn about the Rockefeller Drug Laws! That's what I've always known I'd want to teach my children as early as possible. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with teaching children about stop-and-frisk and about how, as much as we want to think of the police as being a force for good and the court system as being a place where justice occurs, this isn't necessarily the case. And, in fact, the notion that all children—regardless of race or socio-economic class—should be taught that all police officers are automatically trustworthy is kind of bullshit. After all, my experience as a young white teenage girl with regard to the police was obviously vastly different than if I had been a different gender or race. Teach kids about how one law wound up being responsible for the long-term imprisonment of thousands of minorities and see what they take away from it.
Safe Sex Saved Lives
Here's a thing that has been making the rounds on the old Internet lately: Nobody uses condoms anymore. Or at least, they don't use them on Girls, and since Girls is basically reality television, probably nobody really uses them at all. When I was growing up, though, all anyone EVER talked about was condoms. It was the 90s. And so talk about safe sex was everywhere because of the AIDS epidemic. Now, no one talks about AIDS anymore and abstinence-education is a thing that exists as if abstinence is a thing that anyone—including priests or Disney stars—practices and its a joke. And while I'm glad that my children won't have the specter of AIDS hanging over their heads like I did, there's still that super-strain of gonorrhea and I don't think that should be fucked around with either.
New York Used to Have a Middle Class
This would be a fun things for all New York kids to learn! Once upon a time, in a land very much like this one, families could live in apartments whose rent didn't consume half their salaries and the income disparity between very rich and very poor was much less stark. It's hard to imagine that such a time really existed when we currently live in a city where apartments that are near the Gowanus Canal and right next to an elevated subway track rent for $8,500/month. Sometimes it feels like we've reached end times here. Like maybe the apocalypse did happen last December and this is just the aftermath? Either way, this is something that children might benefit from knowing about, so that someday, maybe, they can work to rectify the wrongs. Only time will tell, but knowledge is power.
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