Summary: How can leaders respond to the newest round of books banned in schools? What questions can we ask and what happens next?
I received an email that sent me into a tailspin. It’s about what children are learning in school. More importantly, it’s about what they are not learning. Here is the email and my response.
Is critical thinking taught or ignored?
Dear Dr. Sylvia,
First, I want to let you know that I take my job as a leader in my tech company very seriously. I read all I can about leadership. In fact, I have an executive coach and also participate in community projects.
In addition, I am on a task force to consider the homeless problem in my area. I just wish more of the affluent folks around here would join me (that is for another day).
Above all, I would like to hear your response to the recent banning of the book “MAUS” by the entire ten-member school board in McMinn County Tennessee.
What will foster critical thinking in our schools?
Further, I want to reiterate their reasons for the ban. Here is what they deemed unsuitable; There is an objection to “rough objectionable language” and also “sketches of naked women.” This is the base of their argument of the book creating a negative impact on thirteen-year-old children to read and discuss in school.
I thought to myself, “naked women and objectionable language. My God, the internet is full of both!”
In addition, I asked my son who is fourteen, his opinion. He merely shrugged and said “Whatever” and went about his day to complete his science project that is due in the morning.
What changes do we need to educate involved citizens?
Most importantly, my question is, “Am I nuts, or are we missing the essential quality of what it means to educate the next generations?
I respect your opinion. You discuss how patterns of behavior travel from one generation to the next.
For instance, what are we handing to the kids?
Thanks in advance for responding,
Signed, A Curious and Concerned Dad.
A perspective about critical thinking at a time of polarization
Dear Curious and Concerned Dad,
Above all, thank you for this timely email. I have been up at night thinking about what can happen if we ignore this issue. After all, it’s only one school district. No big deal. Right?
Moreover, I feel certain twinges of angst that we are in the midst of repeating behavior patterns that led to the rise of societies that brought Hitler and the Nazis to power.
I named this time and this dilemma, The NOT SEE Movement.
Most importantly, while I am not an alarmist, I do track trends and patterns and this uptake in negativity has me concerned.
As a psychologist and transformational leadership educator, I have spent countless hours studying all types of leaders, especially charismatic leaders. So many larger-than-life individuals, both male, and female appeal to those who feel powerless, or deprived, and see themselves as “less than.”
Who has the responsibility of guiding children in their school education?
Moreover, it is those charismatic leaders who often encourage the “disenfranchised” to blame others for their problems. It definitely has some appeal. Then it’s easy to point “out there” and not bother with any self-awareness or critical thinking training.
So, the big question right now is about who has the power and responsibility to say what is or is not appropriate. Should we leave this to the educators? Or perhaps better left to parents?
Who can lead a discussion that requires critical thinking?
Firstly, I want to ask a question. How does banning books give us a more secure culture? And an added question, What does banning books mean about being in control?
Subsequently, another thought. When life is complex, as it is presently, I believe from all my research that the mind wants to regress to simplicity. You know, “it was better in the old days” kind of thinking.
In addition, I believe that when we rely on survival constructs to feel in control of our lives, the psychological term, cognitive dissonance enters in full force. That is when we believe we are right and everyone else is wrong.
After that, all opposing ideas are considered wrong! And might I add, not worthy of discussion.
Critical thinking required. Should we spend time silencing or questioning?
To sum up, I believe we need to enlarge the narrative. The bigger question is “What are the deep societal issues we are ignoring?”
In the same vein, the question I have is about the dream of the perfect life many of us were fed on television as kids. You know, get a job, work, and then life will be easy and comfortable. Nice home, fast cars, luxurious vacations, and minor worries. Sure sounds good.
We trap ourselves into a culture of “is everybody happy?”
In fact, I think the “happiness movement” has done damage to most of us. Unless you are happy all the time, you fail!
Similarly, one more food for thought question. Is free speech only free when it is to our liking?
In short, I think it is time for some bigger discussions that are based on both facts and emotions. Facts without emotions are cold-hearted; emotions without facts become weak-hearted.
In conclusion, this is a time for all of us to look at our own basic needs for security and approval. Then we, you curious dad, and I can create a safe space for parents and educators as well as teens to sit together to talk and listen. The questions we ask and the willingness to discuss more than one option is what the world needs now.
This discussion needs all of us to participate. It requires less adversarial positionality and more curiosity. Please contact me and let’s keep the conversation going.
I hope this will get more of us to take leadership roles in our very divided world.
With deep appreciation,
PS. Any interest in helping with new ways to discuss difficult issues, please contact me.
PSS My book, “Don’t Bring It To Work” is worth a look. I talk about how negative behavior patterns learned at home show up at work and in the community. Sadly, patterns to defend, explain, and justify repeat and repeat. That is until they are transformed into positive and healthy ways of relating. The good news is, that once you understand pattern repetition, it is ready to change for the better.