Hot Topic #29: Banned & Controversial Books

Found on CNN

This is a topic that comes up every single year!

The idea for this post came from a recent article on CNN: These books are gaining ground in an Alaska town after a school board voted to remove them from class.


The books that are under fire in the town of Palmer are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man; Joseph Heller’s Catch-22; Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried; and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

Members of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School Board met in mid-April to “approve the district’s High School English Elective Curriculum and reading list.” After lengthy discussions, “an amendment was introduced during the meeting to scratch the five books off the curriculum. Five members voted in favor of the removal, two voted against. The vote has no impact on the books’ placement in school libraries. In the same vote, the board also removed ‘The Learning Network,’ a resource for educators from The New York Times Company as a mentor text for district teachers.”

Palmer is about 40 miles from Anchorage in the southern part of the state. It serves 46 schools and more than 19,000 students.

Board members received a one-page flier from the district’s Office of Instruction regarding the potential controversies. “Concerns about the pieces of literature, according to the flier, included sexual references, rape, racial slurs, scenes of violence and profanity.”

All this to say that the books have not been banned from the district. The article was written to make the point that the school board voted in favor of removal.


What about community members?

According to the article, “No community members had signed up to comment prior to the meeting.” And, “since the decision was made as an amendment, community members didn’t have a chance to give their input.”

“The material for the English elective class were reviewed through a stakeholder survey, a community survey and a council of educators — including teachers, librarians and administrators — among other reviewers in the 2019-2020 year, the school district said.” The recommendations were then brought to the school board.


Positive spin on the situation

There is some good news. A Facebook page was created after the meeting, advertising “The Mat-Su Valley Banned Book Challenge.” Any student that read all the works can enter for a change to win $100. However, the administrators of the page have considered upping the monetary prize because of the interest in the challenge. At the time the article was published, over 200 students had joined the page.


Protecting students?

There were several quotes in the article regarding the students, and the school board’s intent to protect them from the content of these books. Many of them depict abuse and violence.

“To think that by not reading ‘Why the Caged Bird Sings’ means therefore children will not be exposed to sexual abuse is … closed-minded and ignorant.”

“‘There are many, many students in our district who don’t know that the trauma maybe they’ve experienced is trauma that somebody else has written about and yes, they can go and talk to somebody then,’ Welton said in the meeting.”

‘”I think you’re putting your head in the sand,’ she said. ‘If you really, truly believe that you are protecting your children, you can protect them by just saying, ‘Don’t take that class.'”


The main takeaway for me is that these books are for an English elective class. To me, however, I think these quotes hit the nail on the head. If these students aren’t supposed to or allowed to read these books in school, what other opportunity would they have to read them? Would these students take them out of the library themselves? Apparently, the chance to win money is plenty inspiring.


If you’re interested, check out the links regarding banned and challenged books below.


For me, I’ve read The Great Gatsby and The Things They Carried. I read Invisible Man and Catch-22 so long ago! I’ve read parts of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I think I’ll add the last three to a future TBR. I re-read The Great Gatsby every year. And I think I should re-read The Things They Carried at some point.

Have you read any of these five books?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚

Hot Topic #28: Foster Care and Opioids

Research published in July 2019 indicates that the number of children entering the foster care system has more than doubled since 2000.

Other reasons for removal, including neglect and abuse, declined.

Coincidentally, Sesame Street introduced a new Muppet around the same time. Karli is staying with her “for-now” family while her mom is away getting better. The Sesame Street initiative focuses on addiction as a whole, but makes the connection to foster care. Karli’s mom is getting help for alcohol addiction.


Resources

More Kids Are Getting Placed in Foster Care Because of Parents’ Drug Use, NPR, July 15, 2019

At This Camp, Children of Opioid Addicts Learn to Cope and Laugh, NPR, October 9, 2019


Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚

Commentary #93: Thoughts on β€œA Girl Like Her”

A Girl Like Her

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Thanks to my friend Hannah for posting the trailer on Facebook recently. I hadn’t heard of this movie until I watched the trailer. I cried.

I finally sat down and watched it last night. What a powerful, emotional movie.


The tag line reads, in part, “based on a million true stories,” and that’s so true.

Although it’s been a few years since it was released, it’s still so sadly relevant.

As I started watching, I immediately thought of a young man named Alex, who died by suicide when he was a freshman at Oscar Smith. He was 14-years-old. He had just started the IB program. I didn’t know him at all, but I felt compelled to go to his funeral. I didn’t know his story, but I wanted to be there for his family, and the IB family.

As the movie progressed, I thought about the other people I knew who have died by suicide. Not necessarily from bullying, but other circumstances. The most poignant bullying tragedy was Nick L’Hoste. He was only 12 when he died. It sent shockwaves through our schools, and especially our church. He was only a year younger than me. It’s hard to believe he would have turned 30 this year.


This movie makes me incredibly grateful I didn’t have the access to the far reaches of the Internet when I was in high school. But, it’s still sobering. Bullying has expanded to online and offline, and it’s so sad.

The other lesson I learned is that no one should be afraid to ask for help, whether you’re the victim or the bully. It’s a bit of a contradiction, so let me explain.

When I was younger, I was taunted and teased. I wasn’t classically “bullied.” I never considered suicide as an option or a way out.

However, when I brought up instances on the school bus and in the classroom, my parents typically said, “Oh, if it’s a boy, it’s just because he likes you.” I’ve NEVER liked that phrase, nor did I believe it was true. I’m writing another blog post about that – More to come.

But that’s not my point. Kids, regardless of their age, should be able to go to their parents, or any trusted adult, with their problems and struggles. They shouldn’t be dismissed or brushed off. They need to be believed.

Also, if they don’t want to talk about it right away, that’s perfectly fine. They need to feel like they’re being heard, and that’s huge!

And, the bullies need as much help as the victims. I’m glad the movie showed both perspectives. By the end of the movie, it was painfully obvious how much Avery was dealing with, and she felt like she had no one to turn to.

I appreciate what the principal said about there being two sides to every story. That’s absolutely true.

However, bullying is still incredibly complicated! Jessica was targeted in multiple ways – In person, physical abuse, text messages, emails, social media posts, and more. It gutted me to watch it all unfold.

I cried multiple times. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the ending, but I understand why it was framed that way. The point is the movie as a whole, not necessarily how it ends.


I applaud Amy S. Weber for making this movie. I think many more people need to see it. I was able to find it on Amazon Prime Video for free. And I will likely watch it again. It’s a good reminder to be kind, and recognize that you probably have no idea what someone is going through.

So, thank you, Hannah. You introduced me to a movie that’s left a mark on me. Thank you for inspiring me to share it.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚

Commentary #92: β€œAre we policing books too hard or not enough? Are we helping books get banned? Controversial Book Discussion Post. (Massive warning for triggers and hot topics throughout the whole blog post.) Do not read if you don’t feel comfortable with heavy topics/triggers.”

Controversial Books Quote

Image Credit: Pinterest

I really appreciated her perspective. I don’t agree with everything she said/wrote, but I felt it was such a good read that I had to share it.

https://confessionsofayareader.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/are-we-policing-books-too-hard-or-not-enough-are-we-helping-books-get-banned-controversial-book-discussion-post-massive-warning-for-triggers-and-hot-topics-throughout-the-whole-blog-post-do/


Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚

Hot Topic #26: North Korea

North Korea Quote

Image Credit: Wilson Center

Unless you’ve been living under the rock, it feels like North Korea has been in the news every single day.

I wanted to use this post to walk through several things: A brief history, news articles and documentaries, China’s concerns. and what the media is NOT reporting.


North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.

Korea was annexed by Imperial Japan in 1910. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided into two zones. The north was occupied by the Soviet Union, and the south was occupied by the United States. Attempts at reunification failed. In 1948, separate governments were formed – The socialist Democratic People’s Reublic of Korea to the north, and the capitalist Republic of Korea to the south. An invasion by the north led to the Korean War, from 1950-1953. The Korean Armistice Agreement brought a ceasefire, but no peace treaty.

The North Korean army is the fourth largest in the world. With 1.21 million active duty personnel, it is only behind China, the United States, and India. Its population is estimated, in 2016 numbers, to be over 25 million people. The country shares land borders with China and Russia.

The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a strip of land, 160 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide. It separates the two countries. It was established in 1953 by an agreement between North Korea, China, and the United Nations.

The country functions as a highly centralized, one-party state. They are governed by the Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System. The Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) dominates all North Korean politics, and has an estimated three million members.

Kim Jong-un is the current Supreme Leader, or Suryeong, of Korea. He is part of the Kim dynasty, which has ruled North Korea since 1948.


Aside from general media coverage, there have been several interesting documentaries made about North Korea.

Al and I watched The Propaganda Game several years ago. I think we watched it through Netflix. It was incredibly compelling, eye-opening, and frustrating. I was so angry after we watched it.

In addition, multiple movies have featured North Korea, including The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Die Another Day (2002), Stealth (2005), Salt (2010), Red Dawn (2012), The Interview (2014), and Northern Limit Line (2015).


Over the years, concerns have arisen regarding the Kim dynasty, their treatment of their citizens, and nuclear weapons.

More recently, although North Korea has announced their intent to fully denuclearize, there are significant concerns from the Chinese government. North Korea has been blowing up and destroying some of their nuclear weapon facilities, and China has been very concerned about the radiation dust, and other environmental hazards. But, of course, the media here in the United States isn’t talking about that. But, they should be.

There’s a lot about China and North Korea that hasn’t been reported in the United States. It’s infuriating, really. I learned about investigative journalism early on in my education at Longwood. But, the current reporting has a certain strategy and angle. Not that any of that is an excuse. It’s crappy reporting, crappy journalism. I also believe there is a culture of fear now. Especially since Donald Trump is the President of the United States.


For more information, check out the links below. As always, I try to gather my news sources from a variety of United States and international news organizations.

 


Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚

Hot Topic #25: Teachers On Strike

Image result for teachers on strike

Image Credit: Vox

First, it was teachers walking out in West Virginia.

Then, it was teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky.

All of them have one thing in common: They have gone on strike, to protest numerous issues.

These include low pay, pension laws, and the abysmal state of the public school education system in the United States.


Timeline (so far)

  • February 22nd: The call for West Virginia teachers to strike comes from the West Virginia branches of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
  • February 23rd: Teachers rally in front of the West Virginia State Capitol, while others picket individual schools.
  • February 27th: An announcement of a deal between union leaders and Governor Jim Justice.
  • February 28th: Every county in West Virginia announced school closures.
  • March 3rd: The strike is extended into the eighth workday when the West Virginia Senate proposed a 4% pay rise, instead of the 5% pay rise passed by the West Virginia House of Delegates.
  • March 7th: School personnel return, after the State Senate agreed to the House’s position.
  • End of March: Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signs a bill raising spending on teacher and support staff pay by $405.5 million. This equates to average raises of $6,100 for teachers, and $1,250 for support staff. However, the teachers’ union had been asking for an average of a $10,000 raise for teachers.
  • April 2nd: Oklahoma teachers go on strike, concurrently with Kentucky teachers. Oklahoma teachers protest low pay, overcrowded classrooms, and tax cuts which created lower state-wide education funding. Education spending per student in Oklahoma has decreased 28 percent since 2008. Kentucky teachers are protesting changes in their state’s pension laws.
  • April 13th: Oklahoma teacher walkout ends. Teachers around the state pledge to continue fighting for more school funding and higher pay. Oklahoma teachers are the lowest paid in the entire U.S. The walkout ended when the union understood the state legislature did not want to contribute any more revenue for public education. The amount of extra education spending for the next fiscal year is roughly $479 million for teacher and support staff salaries, and school needs.

 

Image result for teachers on strike

Image Credit: USA TODAY

Image result for teachers on strike

Image Credit: Vox


For me, I’m glad that teachers are utilizing their voices. They have reached their breaking points. It’s not all about their compensation, but a host of issues. State funding has decreased. Schools are not being maintained. Teachers don’t have enough textbooks, and some of these books are more than 20 years old. Others have taken to social media to post photos of broken chairs, outdated equipment, and even their salaries. Several have questioned why they need a college degree to be making so little money.

Some teachers in Oklahoma have been working THREE additional jobs, or more, on top of their teaching. Some do landscaping, others drive for Uber and/or Lyft, and so on.

That’s absurd!

The most recent development was in the state of Arizona. It was looking like those teachers were going to strike, but the governor recently offered a 20 percent pay raise. We’ll have to see how this pans out.

Teachers are entrusted to give quality education to our children, and future generations. How can they possibly teach well if they struggle with so many issues? I could go on and on about:

(a) the detriments of standardized testing.

(b) teachers buying basic school supplies for their classrooms throughout the year, in order for their students to be able to learn effectively.

(c) teachers dealing with student hunger, either by recognizing how many are on free or reduced-cost meal programs, or having food pantries in their classrooms because their students aren’t getting enough to eat.

(d) administrators and school boards working against teachers, including issues such as continued disciplinary problems, vandalism, dysfunctional parents, and more.

(e) school administrators, school board members, and district/city school superintendents receiving substantial pay raises.

And there are more. Before she retired last year, my mom saw several excellent teachers leave their public elementary school in favor of private schools. These teachers did not feel free to truly teach and be creative in their classrooms, among other problems. It was incredibly sad!

And my mom taught English as a Second Language (ESL), so she didn’t have the full classroom of kids that were going through round after round of standardized testing. She did teach elementary school in North Carolina during the 1970s and 1980s – 13 years total – and it was completely different back then. The teaching environment has changed so drastically in the last few decades, and not for the better. No wonder there are less and less people majoring in education and becoming teachers.


If you’re curious, here are the five of the top-paying states for teachers. However, keep in mind that these states are also some of the most expensive places to live in the U.S.

  1. Alaska – Average salary: $74,122
  2. New York – Average salary: $73,247
  3. Connecticut – Average salary: $72,524
  4. California – Average salary: $68,711
  5. New Jersey – Average salary: $67,938

And, here are the lowest-paying states:

  1. North Carolina – Average salary: $43,059
  2. Arizona – Average salary: $42,875
  3. South Dakota – Average salary: $42,564
  4. Mississippi – Average salary: $42,393
  5. Oklahoma – Average salary: $41,088

Source: These states pay teachers the most. Where does your state fall?


Sources


In addition, the fight for teacher pay and benefits continues in my local area, as well. I live and work in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. There are seven major cities here: Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach.

As recently as this week, teachers have been packing local City Council meetings, calling for raises and more school funding.

In case you’re wondering, Virginia ranks eighth in the list of teacher pay by state, with an average salary of $64,285.


What do you think about teachers going on strike?

Do you think other states are soon to follow?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚

Hot Topic #24: Thoughts on the LGBT+ Community

lgbtq-main-banner

Image Credit: Barnardo’s (U.K.)

Disclaimer: I have several friends who are part of the LGBT+ community. I tried to write this post as objectively as possible, and I mean no disrespect to anyone!

If you have questions for me, please make a constructive comment on this post, or use my Contact page.

Thank you!


What does the acronym LGBT+ stand for?

Source: We know what LGBT means but here’s what LGBTQQIAAP stands for

L – Lesbian

  • A woman who is attracted to other women.

G – Gay

  • A man who is attracted to other men, or broadly, people who identify as homosexual.

B – Bisexual

  • A person who is attracted to both men and women.

T – Transgender

  • A person whose gender identity is different from the sex listed on their birth certificate.
  • FTM: Female-to-male.
  • MTF: Male-to-female.

Q – Queer

  • Some want to reclaim this term, but others continue to find this offensive.
  • I personally do not use this term in my vocabulary.

Q – Questioning

  • A person who is exploring sexuality or gender identity.

I – Intersex

  • A person whose body is not definitively male or female.
  • Example: A male with a vagina, a female with a penis, etc.

A – Allies

  • A person who identifies as straight, but supports people in the LGBT+.
  • Since high school, I have considered myself to be an ally, or advocate for the community.

A – Asexual

  • A person who is not attracted to people of any gender, in a sexual way.

P – Pansexual

  • A person whose sexual attraction is not based on gender.
  • The person may also be gender fluid, or fluid with their sexual identity.

In addition, I want to list this as well:

GQ – Genderqueer (non-binary)

  • People whose gender identities are not exclusively masculine or feminine.
  • Having two or more genders – Bigender, trigender, or pangender.
  • Having no gender – Agender, nongendered, genderless, genderfree, or neutrois.
  • Moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity – Genderfluid.
  • Being third gender or other-gendered – Those who do not place a name to their gender.

In a recent Facebook Messenger conversation with a friend, I expressed my commitment as an ally, which I believe they appreciated seeing / hearing.

In the same conversation, the topic turned to equality. As much as I would like for everyone to be treated fairly and equally in this world, we are still so far from it. There is still so much prejudice and stigmatization.

As an individual, I want to be as accepting and loving as I possibly can.

As a Christian, I have been taught that we should love others unconditionally.


Resources


What about you? What are your thoughts?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth πŸ™‚