Sticks and Stones: Words Won’t Hurt Your Kids

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What do the words “dinosaur,” “divorce,” and “disease” have in common?  No, it’s not the theme of the latest TV show that’s a cross between Lost and Desperate Housewives.  Those are just three of the words that have been banned in New York City school tests because officials fear that some of them will cause kids to be afraid and make them feel “unpleasant” emotions.

I’m pretty shocked that we really have to address the issue of keeping certain words and phrases away from schoolchildren. If we were talking about the ‘seven words you can’t use on television’ made famous by George Carlin, that would be a no-brainer. But I’m a mom who loves words and books and newspapers and magazines and libraries and book stores. I’m all about words and ideas, as is my husband, and given the rate at which our sixth-grader plows through books, it looks like we’ve been successful at raising a daughter who loves words, too. So I’m really wondering how in 2012 we’ve become so afraid of things that aren’t familiar to our own lives that we ban any discussion for our children for fear of some unintended offense?

We’re not talking here about banning swearing or bullying or mean behavior. The words and phrases at issue are an odd mix of the names of religious holidays, world views and ideas that the rest of the world consider pretty tame. Even the mention of the word “politics” is on the too-hot-to-handle list. As a parent, I’m perfectly fine with the language of Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher being kept away from our kids at school. But when did we become a society that’s so afraid to offend anyone that we can’t mention Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa at school?

I want our daughter to learn about other people’s lives and beliefs and cultures, and, at age appropriate times, I’m not afraid of discussions of so-called “traumatic” events, like war and homelessness (because we’d have to talk about them first before our kids could be tested on them). But apparently people are a little more sensitive in New York City!

The scary thing about all this is that when you talk about banning words that might offend someone, the next thing that gets banned is books. And that’s a very slippery slope. I know now as a mother of a sixth-grader, that my own parents would have been mortified if they’d found out that a copy of The Godfather (the book, not the movie) was making the rounds in my own sixth-grade classroom so that everyone could read the infamous wedding scene. But when we start talking about keeping certain words away from our kids at school that have an important place in our lives, we’re just setting ourselves up to create a generation that doesn’t know enough to understand the world as it really is or to ask questions about it.

Would you think it’s a good idea to ban the use of words like these in your kids’ classrooms?

Read more from me at my blog PunditMom and in my Amazon best-selling book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America.

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Do Children Learn More When They’re Not Afraid to Fail?

Trayvon Martin & Race: Can Our Kids Really Understand?

Tween Friendships: We Only Have the Illusion of Control

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