Have you ever had one of those moments where the world suddenly goes still and silent?
My moment happened when I was standing on a chair in my classroom putting a book up on a high shelf. A white student came up to me, book in hand, and asked in that loud, clear voice that some children have, “Mrs. N? What’s a n—-r?” Except he said the word, outloud, in my classroom. He was totally innocent in this. He had no idea what he had just said.
When my heart started beating again I scrambled off the chair and sat down to have a talk with him about hate language and swear words. And subsequently a talk with my class about hate language and swear words.
But oh did I want to know. WHAT WAS THIS CHILD READING? How was it possible that in my classroom, in this safe space that I’d created, a nine year old child was reading this in a book.
The book was Jackie and Me, part of a wildly popular series about time travel and baseball players by Dan Gutman. Mr. Gutman, who had so kindly used a combination of asterisks, dollar signs and pound signs to work his way through Babe Ruth’s swearing problem had no trouble just dropping the n word into a book aimed at elementary school students. And not just once either. The book is peppered with them. No doubt it’s giving a very realistic version of what things were like for Jackie Robinson when he started playing in the major leagues. But I wasn’t quite sure the kids needed that level of realism.
I will tell you that this book is on the shelves of your local library. Of your school library. Possibly even of your own home. But as a teacher, I didn’t think it was okay for children to read it in my classroom and not know the history or significance of what’s being put before them. For a child who has trusted this author to bleep out the curse words from the Babe, how will that child know that a word (in my opinion) far worse than damn or hell is being used?
As much as adults may want to monitor the content of every book out there, we simply can’t, there are too many books! But I am here to give you information about what I notice when I’m reading so that you can make informed decisions about the books your child reads and the issues that they raise.
I am not here to act as a censor, or to make decisions for you. But I will try to provide some idea about what’s really going on between the pages of those books your child is reading. As for inserting my own judgment? Well, I’d rather this weren’t mind numbingly boring, so I’m afraid I’ll have to give some opinions here and there.