During today’s book fair at school, a parent came up to me and lamented that the novel The Boy In Striped Pajamas should be placed, at the most, on the “Mature Shelf”. She asserted that she saw the movie and that there was no redeeming value to to the movie or the book.
I asked if she had read the book and she immediately said, “No!”
She pointed out that at least Schindler’s List had hope at the end, “Pajamas” does not and has no redeeming quality.
“What if the redeeming quality is that a student is reading a book” I asked.
More of the same argument.”What if the redeeming quality is that it reminds us of humanity’s potential for evil” I asked. More of the same argument, with a little “it made me depressed and angered…” sprinkled in.
“What if the redeeming quality is that it allows students to live vicariously through characters, testing out newly forming ideas and concepts in a safe way?”
She laughed, “I wouldn’t let my eighth grader read this because there is no hope in it. And, it isn’t even real, it’s made up! Fiction!”
“What if the redeeming quality is that the book sparks a prolonged conversation with your son, a shared experience that will last long into the future?”
More of the same argument.
The parent went on to tell me about her undergraduate degree in history and other things not related to my questions.
Even though I completely disagree with this parent, I am happy for this exchange.
It reminded me that there are parents passionate about what their students are reading and doing in school.In the past I would have argued vehemently about the power of books and reading, of having one’s views challenged.
However, this morning I found myself calmly asking her questions that I hope caused her to think about her position deeper and further. It also reminded me that I do not have all the answers.
Even if I did, the parent was not receptive this morning.
It also reminded me to be humble: it is easy to be comfortably arrogant with knowledge that with a few key strokes and a minute or two, I can likely have a well thought out argument against any position – but miss out on the humanity and nuance of AND.
I did not tell her to change her thoughts. This parent was able to voice her opinion, hear an opposing view, and interact positively with a teacher.