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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

What’s ‘age appropriate’ for young students?

When are children ready to learn about slavery, the Trail of Tears or the Holocaust?

Parents and teachers want lessons to be “age appropriate,” but disagree on when children are ready for painful topics, writes Marta W. Aldrich on Chalkbeat.

She reviews books that have been challenged as inappropriate in Tennessee, which last year passed a law restricting how schools teach about racism.

This year, book challenges and bans increased and Tennessee lawmakers passed Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s plan requiring periodic library reviews “so parents are empowered to make sure content is age-appropriate.”

In a national poll, a majority of parents said “schools should teach students to love their country, but should also teach the full history of America, including the terrible things that have happened related to race and racism,” notes Aldrich.

The poll found bipartisan agreement that lessons about slavery, the Civil War, and civil rights should be taught in high school — but less support for teaching those topics in middle school, and even less for elementary school.

When Williamson County Schools adopted the rigorous Wit & Wisdom curriculum, “teacher teams worked by grade levels to make modifications, including withholding some imagery and texts they did not think students were ready for,” writes Aldrich. Still there were dozens of complaints.

In January, after months of meetings and deliberations about curriculum complaints, the district’s reconsideration panel released its 113-page report on Wit & Wisdom. As a result, the district removed one fourth grade book, the Newbery Award-winning Walk Two Moons, which complainants said was age-inappropriate for reasons that included “stick figures hanging, cursing and miscarriage, hysterectomy/stillborn and screaming during labor.”

The district also made “instructional adjustments” to seven other texts, but overruled complaints about dozens of others, including two second grade books: The Story of Ruby Bridges, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Coles, and Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story, written by Bridges herself.

Aldrich talks to a mother, born in Thailand, whose mixed-race son, a second grader, rejected his white heritage and declared himself not an American after reading about white mobs yelling at Ruby Bridges and white firefighters turning hoses on civil rights marchers.

Holocaust education in Germany has been mandatory since the early 1990s. In South Africa, the slave trade, colonialism, and apartheid are taught in Grade 7, 8, and 9, respectively. . . . several Canadian states have made it mandatory to teach the history of “residential schools,” where indigenous children were abused and thousands died.

However, instruction typically doesn’t start till secondary school.

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