You May Want to Find Out What's in Your Child's Classroom Library
As schools across the country attempt to improve student literacy, boatloads of taxpayer dollars are being poured into creating classroom libraries, so that each classroom will have a large number of interesting and varied books for students to read. The district I work in has been issued nearly $500 of state money per classroom for this purpose. Assuming that all schools in the state are being allocated similar amounts, it is clear that a great deal of money is being devoted to this cause. While it is laudable to surround students with the world of words, it is troubling that the choices of books seem to be limited—and ideologically so.
For instance, when I went to the website of the designated state supplier for these books to look for works that might be useful in my high-school history classes, I noticed that one particular set of books was being promoted as an excellent classroom library collection. I clicked to see the titles contained in this set, and one that immediately grabbed my attention was Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager. I was a bit taken aback, but clicked to see a synopsis of the book, which read:
World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you've never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of numerous people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn't make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.
Reading the LGBTQ Agenda into the Past
The inclusion of Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt in this book shows that its approach to history is not only ideologically driven but also irresponsible. To be sure, reputable historians hold different opinions regarding the sexuality of these two figures, but to paint them as soldiers in the LGBTQ cause is a distortion of history. Perhaps to justify the claim of LGBTQ ubiquity reflected in the book's title and synopsis, the author appears to have read the LGBTQ agenda into the past.
Any first-year history major can tell you that context is critical to determining the meaning of historical sources, and that the language contained therein must be considered in the cultural context of the time. In previous generations, the language used in letter-writing was vivid, deep, expressive, and often intimate, even in correspondence between persons of the same sex. In today's overly sexualized culture, we assume that the friendships or relationships between persons who wrote to each other this way must have had a sexual component because we can't imagine such language being used in any other context. But this is to read the present into the past, and that is problematic at the very least.
In the chapters of her book that actually deal with these high-profile individuals, Prager does use qualifying phrases like "we may never know for sure," but her choice to include such recognizable figures in the book at all, and to call attention to their inclusion in the synopsis, is suspect. It indicates that careful historical scholarship on this issue is lacking. By contrast, Ken Burns's documentary The Roosevelts treaded very carefully in dealing with Eleanor's deep friendships with other women, and never made claims of a sexual nature.
While Prager is correct to note that there have been different expressions of sexuality in "every culture, in every era," and that it is proper to acknowledge this fact, she fails to consider the moral dimensions of aberrant sexuality and how individuals who indulge it should be viewed. Instead of portraying such persons as broken and fallen, at least with respect to their sexuality, she presents them as pioneering role models to be imitated.
Before deciding whether to add the book to my cart or not, I perused the reviews on Amazon. Unsurprisingly, they revealed a polarized response, with some critiquing the book's questionable historical methodology and others praising it as a welcome development.
Co-opted by the Progressive Agenda
I decided not to add the book to my cart, but now I wanted to know how many other books of this nature were available from this state-sponsored supplier. I entered "LGBT" into the search box and found many selections dealing with these themes for all grade levels. Had the classroom library project been co-opted by the progressive agenda? Now my ideology detector was up.
I wondered if a search for books on Martin Luther or John Calvin, two important historical figures in the making of the modern world, would turn up similar results. Surely, there would be at least a few books available about these major figures of the Reformation. But no; not a single title on either man was returned. Was that because these individuals had four strikes against them—being white, male, European, and Christian? What the search for "Martin Luther" did return were 60-plus titles about Martin Luther King, Jr., who certainly is a historical figure worthy of significant coverage. But no books about the man he was named after?
This seemed to be evidence that another of progressivism's go-to categories lay behind the selection of books being made available for classrooms: race. I scanned more titles and found numerous books about racial issues. Again, race is indeed a major aspect of history and should not be ignored. I spend significant time in my classroom dealing with this difficult topic, not sugarcoating America's record on race. But it is not the only issue worth considering, and a consequence of focusing on it so heavily is that students are encouraged to develop the destructive mindset of identity politics, which views the world through a racial lens, as if that one characteristic is what defines us as humans.
My next thought was that, if there weren't any books about Luther or Calvin, surely there must be some about the Reformation generally. But again my search returned nothing, only titles having to do with "reform" as in social reform movements, another progressive hobbyhorse. I wondered if there were books about non-Christian religious figures, say the Dalai Lama; here my search was more successful, returning three books.
Salvaging a Few Classics
Nevertheless, by this point I was quite frustrated, finding the book selections to be strictly limited by an ideological agenda, even though the state supplier claimed to be offering "diverse authors" and "diverse perspectives." It was clear that this actually meant rubber-stamping books promoting the singular progressive views on sexuality, gender, race, and social justice.
In the end, I tried searching for historical classics, some of which did turn up (especially books by what are termed "diverse" authors). These I quickly selected to fill up my cart, hopefully avoiding the ideological game being played in the process.
This exercise in trying to select books for my classroom library revealed to me the deep connections between the public school system and progressive ideology. Something as simple as creating a classroom library appears to have been co-opted by the progressives, as the books made available have been pre-selected works geared towards inculcating in students a worldview at odds with reality.Joshua Pauling
teaches highschool history, was educated at Messiah College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Winthrop University, and has written for Front Porch Republic, FORMA Journal, and Modern Reformation. He is also head elder at All Saints Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Charlotte, North Carolina. He and his wife Kristi have two children who are being classically homeschooled.