When Politicians Become Bullies: Jacob’s New Dress

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North Carolina, where I currently live, has had it’s fair share of negative attention over the past year. Most prominently, in relation to the anti-LGBT legislation known as HB2, or “the bathroom bill”.

This week, the spotlight has returned to North Carolina, only this time, it’s in regards to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS) school district’s anti-bullying curriculum. My daughter is a student at CMS, a district that has 170 schools and approximately 147,000 students. Therefore, the controversy broiling between our state legislature, the NC Family Values Coalition, and our local school district has a direct impact on my family.

Since November, I have written about #ReadingasResistance, and how books can help guide a person to a new level of political and social activism. How books can be the inspiration that opens our eyes and our minds to new ideas; to people, places, and cultures that are different from us. This is nothing new; in fact, the history of banned books highlights the fear that so many people have when they are confronted with difference. With nonconformity.

Unfortunately, a wonderful children’s picture book, Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, is one of the latest books to be removed from our local school’s curriculum, and therefore, is about to be added to the banned books list. Only this time, it is not a parent or school board that was troubled over a book’s inclusion in a curriculum. It is the state legislators, my lawmakers, that are leading the charge that calls for the removal of Jacob’s New Dress from CMS schools, in the name of “family values” (aka bigotry).

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Jacob’s New Dress is a story about a young boy who loves to play dress-up, and likes to wear dresses to school. The book addresses the unique challenges faced by gender nonconforming boys. Jacob’s parents support their son and his clothing choices, but they worry about him getting teased or bullied at school. The story can be an excellent start to a conversation about what is masculine and what is feminine, and the relationship between the clothes we wear and how we are viewed by society.

The book is included as part of the Welcoming Schools program, a project of the Human Rights Committee to help create safe and welcoming schools for ALL children and families. Jacob’s New Dress is included in the lesson plan, “Discussing Gender Stereotyping with Children’s Books”, with a goal of using literature to understand gender roles and recognize gender stereotyping. Discussion questions for CMS students, obtained by the Washington Post, include the following:

  • Why do you think Christopher is upset that Jacob wants to wear a dress? What does he do to hurt Jacob’s feelings during the story?
  • How did the teacher help him? How could other students have helped Jacob?
  • What should Jacob do if this happens again? (teach students to say STOP, move away, tell a trusted adult)

Risqué stuff, indeed.

Complaints about the lesson plan first arose from one teacher within CMS, who has remained anonymous. Despite the fact that the lesson plan is meant to teach children how to handle harassment and bullying, the NC Family Values Coalition and the House Republican Caucus quickly jumped on board with their disdain.

Our society no longer makes judgments about a girl’s sexuality because she prefers to wear jeans and wrestle, so why do we react so strongly to a boy making similar alternative choices? The author’s who wrote Jacob’s New Dress were inspired by their son, a boy who likes to wear things that dont always adhere to traditional gender roles.

You can’t help but find it ironic that a public school district had to step back from using a book about addressing bullying and harassment after being threatened by North Carolina lawmakers. The NC House Republican Caucus, and the NC Family Values Coalition essentially bullied CMS into using different materials for their anti-bullying curriculum.

And guess what? The bullies don’t like that book either. Red: A Crayon’s Story, is about a blue crayon mistakenly labeled red, and was quickly selected to replace Jacob’s New Dress. The latest word is that Red will also be getting more scrutiny from the Republican Caucus. It is amazing that my state legislators have enough time on their hands to micromanage my daughter’s school reading list.

As a parent within CMS, as someone who has read Jacob’s New Dress and looked at the Welcoming Schools curriculum, I LOUDLY and STRONGLY support including more diverse stories in the classroom. And I call on the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board and District to put Jacob’s New Dress back into the anti-bullying curriculum so that it will go back into my daughter’s classroom, and back into the classrooms of other CMS students.

And let’s be clear: this anti-bullying curriculum is not about “promoting a transgender agenda”, in the words of Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald. It is about using stories and literature to promote safety and acceptance of vulnerable students. Reading a book that teaches students that all people deserve to be free from bias, discrimination, and harm, is a GOOD THING.

You can listen to Jacob’s New Dress on Youtube by going here.

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Read Watch Play #5

October has been an incredibly busy month, and it has been a few weeks since I last did a Read, Watch, Play post, which is my version of the Sunday Salon. Read, Watch, Play is a round-up of bookish and non-bookish entertainment going on in my home this week. Feel free to join in and let me know what fun you have had recently!

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What I’m Watching:

  • Stranger Things (Netflix)- I finally finished the first season! It is rare that I watch anything classified as horror, but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. The actress who plays Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown, is brilliant. I can’t wait to see where they take the show next.
  • Just Add Magic (Amazon) – An original series by Amazon, and a much better than I thought it would be. M started watching this about two weeks ago, and after walking by a few times while she had it on, I got sucked in to the series as well. Just Add Magic is targeted to tweens – the show is based on a middle-grade book of the same name by Cindy Callaghan – but there must be some magic involved, because adults seem to enjoy it equally as much!

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What I’m Playing:

My first triathlon is officially in the books, y’all!!

I’m done, done, done!!! Joy, joy, joy!! I dismounted from my bike into a happy dance yesterday when I polished off the last mile for the Jimmie Johnson Virtual Triathlon!!

The JJF runs from October 1 – October 31, and is a 140.6 mile virtual race that involves a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles cycling, and a 26.2 mile run/walk/jog. It is not completed at once, but broken up into however many workouts you need to get it done.

As of October 29, I completed:

  • 2.4/2.4 mile swim
  • 114.53/112 mile bike
  • 26.31/26.2 mile run

For a grand total of 143.24 miles! For me, this is a MAJOR accomplishment!

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What I’m Reading:

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One of the best things that I read this week was not in a book, but at M’s elementary school. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and on Thursday her school participated in Unity Day. Students – dressed in orange to make a statement against bullying – took to the sidewalks around the school with messages of hope, positivity, and encouragement, to show their support for one other.

I happened to be helping at the school book fair the morning the kids went out to dress up the sidewalks with chalk messages, and it was POWERFUL. I was a victim of bullying during my middle school years, and it melts my heart to no end to have my daughter enrolled in such a safe and supportive school. Messages of hope and solidarity were literally spread from corner to corner of the school property.

Below is a small selection of messages written by M and her fellow students. I’m telling you, these kids are pretty amazing.

  • “Together we can change the world. Speak up to stop bullying.”
  • “The truth may hurt for a while, but a lie hurts forever.”
  • “Fly away from the Haters!”
  • “Never give up on life.”
  • “There are so many kind, though some are blind, there are so many kind!”
  • “The world is full of nice people. If you can’t find one, be one!!”

I think Mr. Browne from Wonder could find a few more precepts from this crew to add to his collection.

What are you up to this week? Let me know in the comments!