Children’s Book about Activism is called “social indoctrination”
teaches children about civil rights, community service, and making a difference in the world
A book that teaches children about civil rights, community service and making a difference in the world was said to "provide a platform for social indoctrination" and that the children were being "set up."
The book in question, “Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire," was featured in a program at the public library for children age 5 and older. The book follows a young girl named Justice who learns about historic figures like Paul Robeson and Ida B. Wells in a conversation with her grandma.
O'FALLON, Ill. • After a school board member here questioned the use of a book about a girl learning about social activism in a children's program at the local library, dozens of parents, teachers and students showed up at a school board meeting Tuesday night to urge him to step down.
But the board member, Steve Springer, said he has no intention of stepping down. He said his concerns about the book and the library program that featured it have been misconstrued.
At the meeting at Fulton Jr. High School, speakers questioned why Springer would oppose an educational event that focused on a book that teaches children about civil rights, community service and making a difference in the world.
The book in question, “Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire," was featured in a program March 24 at the O'Fallon Public Library for children age 5 and older. The book follows a young girl named Justice who learns about historic figures like Charles Hamilton Houston, Paul Robeson, and Ida B. Wells in a conversation with her grandma.
Springer, a third-term member of the board, criticized the event at an April 15 City Council meeting, saying it "provided a platform for social indoctrination" and that the children were being "set up." Springer had not attended the event, library officials have said.
"It was totally inappropriate for two reasons: the venue, the intended audience," Springer said at the meeting. "The venue was the O'Fallon Public Library, a taxpayer funded facility, which should cater to an entire community, not just some factions within it."
Ray Roskos was among those who spoke out at the School Board meeting. Roskos said he represents the district's teachers union and has two children in the district.
He questioned what was in the book that Springer objected to. "Civil Rights? Women's rights? Desegregation of schools? Are you kidding me? It's 2018," Roskos said.
"People of color have the same rights you and I have. The civil rights movement was one of the greatest periods in our short, racist history."
Eryka Grider said she has two young kids in the school district. She said she and others who spoke against Springer are not all politically aligned but that they agreed social justice is a value they share.
“Social justice is not a political agenda,” Grider said. “It’s society saying everyone should be treated fairly by their government.”
Dawn M. Porter, a psychiatrist who works with children and parents in the district, said children start to develop their sense of morality around 5 years old. She called it the "perfect age" to start talking to our children about moral development, community service, and social justice.
"I'm a taxpayer, and I think it's an appropriate use of taxpayer money," Porter said.
Some of the speakers questioned whether Springer's opposition to the book was motivated by racism. Springer is white; several of those who spoke against him were black.
During the 90 minutes of discussion, a few people spoke in support of Springer, including a woman who said he was being ridiculed for simply asking questions.
Springer some of those who were calling for his ouster were "falsely labeling" him racist.
"I was not objecting to a book, its subject matter, its author and or its presentation," he said. "I was simply objecting to its political overtones."
After Springer spoke, Board Member Jason Boone offered to buy copies of “Justice Makes a Difference” for students and proposed that board members read the book to students.
"It's a great book and it's a message I want my children to hear," Boone said.
Before the meeting Tuesday, board President John Wagnon said that he had not read the book and that the board had not met to discuss Springer's comments, though a handful of parents had emailed complaints to the board and voiced their concerns on social media.
"This is really a situation where one of our board members is free to say whatever he or she would say," Wagnon said.
Wagnon said that regardless of whether people disagreed with Springer's comments, they were not grounds for disciplinary action.
"The recourse in this case is you show up at the voting booth and you vote for the school board member you want to see on the board," he said.
School board officials moved the meeting Tuesday from the district office to Fulton Jr. High in anticipation of a large crowd. Teacher contract negotiations was among the items on the agenda.