The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the United States, published a list Wednesday of “Great Summer Reads for Educators!” which included the controversial sexually explicit book “Gender Queer.”
Under the heading “Banned Books: Celebrate the Freedom to Read,” the teachers’ union showcased Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, a graphic memoir marketed towards teens that has received pushback on being included in school libraries due to its illustrations of oral sex and masturbation.
Gender Queer also contains cartoon depictions of minors performing sex acts on each other.
The list also included “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a “memoir-manifesto” by journalist and activist George M. Johnson, which contains a series of essays describing Johnson’s experiences growing up as a queer black man in New Jersey.
School boards in at least ten states have removed All Boys Aren’t Blue, which discusses sexual abuse, statutory rape and multiple sexual encounters, from their libraries, with the Alpine School District in Utah removing the book from public libraries in August of 2022 under a “Sensitive Materials in Schools” law.
Under another subheading entitled “Books for Children and Young Adults,” the teachers’ union recommends “Milo and Marcos at the End of the World” by Kevin Christopher Snipes, a young adult LGBT romance about two gay teens that fall in love amid increasing natural disasters.
The union also recommends “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo under the heading “Books to Celebrate or Understand Juneteenth,” as well as a video and book by former NFL player Emmanuel Acho.
“If you’re a White person who doesn’t know how to talk about Juneteenth—or how to address more fundamental, but sometimes uncomfortable, topics around race and racism—check out [Emmanuel Acho’s] book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” the union wrote.
“Another title used in [the Michigan Education Association’s] book studies for union members? White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, which explores why White people are so bad at talking about racism,” they wrote.
In the video recommended by the teachers’ union, Acho says that “Independence Day was just independence day for [White people], whereas Juneteenth was independence day for another group of people who look differently.”
President of the National Education Association Becky Pringle said at the “Summit for Democracy” in March hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development that racial and social justice are a “pillar” of the union’s efforts.
“For us at the NEA, education justice must be about racial justice, it must be about social justice, it must be about climate justice. It must be about all of those things,” Pringle said at the March panel event.
“For our students to be able to come to school ready to learn every day–We can never think of education as an isolated system because everything connects to our students’ ability to learn,” she said.
“So, we have to necessarily talk about housing justice, food inequality, and the reality that we all just went through a global pandemic together and of course it was the most marginalized communities that were already suffering from the inequities in every single social system in this country and every country,” she added.
In March the Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Education (DOE) Pender Makin told lawmakers at a legislative hearing on the federal DOE’s threat to withhold funding over the state’s failure to meet certain testing requirements that “academic learning” would have to take a backseat to social-emotional learning (SEL) and gender and race issues.
“Academic learning is definitely going to take a backseat to all of these other pieces,” Makin told the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.
When asked by Republican lawmakers about what tradeoffs come with a school focusing on equity, diversity, gender theory and social-emotional programming, Makin said that students would be unable to learn math, reading, and writing unless teachers prioritize their social-emotional needs.
“I guess, I would say it really does come down to brain science,” Makin said.
“Every child in the room needs to feel safe. If one person doesn’t feel safe in the room, the children who feel pretty safe and sure about themselves feel less safe,” she said.
“Your child who is in a classroom who observes the marginalization or bullying or diminishing of another human being, that creates fear in the uninvolved child who is in that setting,” she said. “It creates conditions that are averse to the high academic goals that we set for our students.”
Later in the hearing Makin justified her position on “academic learning” taking a “backseat” with brain chemistry.
“The priorities, what I was trying to describe is, in the brain. The brain prioritizes for us. The brain will not learn the math or the reading or any of the other content areas when in dysregulated, coursing with cortisol and norepinephrine, it will — like the little editor in their head is going to get pushed out of its seat, and the dysregulation takes over,” she said.
“Learning won’t happen for the children until they are regulated,” she said. “So that’s the prioritization for us.”
A Maine Wire / Co/Efficient poll conducted in March found that 93 percent of conservatives and 73 percent of moderates said teachers should not prioritize diversity and equity programming over core educational subjects.
Sixty-six percent of self-identified liberals said that there should be more diversity and equity programming in schools.
A majority of liberals surveyed also opposed greater transparency in schools, such as the posting of curriculum materials online for parents to view, and the right of parents to protect their children from school programming that they consider illicit or obscene.
Despite the liberal minority dictating Department of Education policy, a large majority—80 percent—of Maine voters wanted public schools to post all curriculum on public websites for parents to see what is being taught in their children’s classrooms.