In what could have been an effective lesson on empathy and accepting differences, first-grade classrooms in North Carolina have instead been barred from reading Jacob’s New Dress, a book about a little boy who wears a dress to school.
The book was supposed to be taught as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month. Instead, the North Carolina Values Coalition, a conservative group, complained and began to organize a petition — then, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools pulled the book.
The coalition released a statement claiming the school system wasn’t performing well enough academically, and because of this, obviously shouldn’t be teaching anti-bullying lessons.
“CMS is failing our children,” the news release said. “We encourage CMS to refocus on their mission of maximizing academic achievement instead of advancing this controversial curriculum.”
Weird — teaching kids not to be mean to each other never seemed controversial before.
In the book, Jacob puts on a sparkly princess dress while playing dress-up with his classmates, and when a little girl complains he’s wearing 'girl clothes,' their teacher demonstrates a non-judgmental attitude. Jacob goes home and helps make a new dress with his mom and wears it to school. His dad says, “Well, it’s not what I would wear, but you look great.”
In addition to teaching accepetance and explaining differing gender roles, the book could help transgender kids better understand themselves and know they're not alone. These lessons serve as an effective teaching tool for families who have transgender members or friends.
The executive director of the conservative coalition, Tami Fitzgerald, said she read the book online after a CMS teacher tipped the group off.
Fitzgerald told the New York Times, “It’s clearly geared to young children. The book is meant as a tool of indoctrination to normalize transgender behavior... The purpose of first grade is to teach writing, reading and math, and not to teach boys to wear dresses.'
The authors of the book, Sarah and Ian Hoffman, aren’t buying it. Ian said in an email to the NYT that believing “a book can turn someone gay, or transgender, or anything else is bizarre.”
“If a white kid reads a book about Martin Luther King, is that kid going to become black?” he said. “If a ballerina reads a book about football, is that going to make her try out for the N.F.L.?
He explained Jacob is simply drawn to things that don’t fit stereotypical gender norms, comparing it to a girl wearing pants 100 years ago. The couple wrote in the book that their son Sam had long hair in preschool and loved the color pink, but he also liked castles, dragons, and knights.
“What the North Carolina backlash tells us is that our book is needed,” Ian said. “We imagined future generations saying, ‘What was the fuss about?’ Clearly, there’s more work to do.”
The North Carolina Values Coalition clearly only cares about certain values, and acceptance isn’t one of them. Unironically, while they're banning this lesson from first graders, they could probably use it themselves.
Photos via 'Jacob's New Dress' Amazon page
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Brianna is a BUST editorial intern from Indiana. After finishing her bachelor's in telecommunication news and journalism from Ball State University, she went to Syracuse for her master's in arts journalism. She likes writing about movies, performance art and advocacy. You can follow her on Twitter @BriKirk, and reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.