In 2010, Michelle Obama successfully got “junk food” removed from public school cafeterias across America. She realized that, for some students, school meals were often the only source of healthy food options and it was vital to make sure the healthy options were not overshadowed by the more appealing, yet less healthy options that were previously offered. Let’s face it, when given the choice, most students are going to choose the bag of chips and soda over the vegetables and milk.
Fast forward to 2022. Parents across the country are scouring public school library and classroom book collections and discovering explicit sexual content, vulgar language, and graphic novels with pornographic illustrations in them. The content of what they are finding has set off a firestorm of outrage and protest from parents and community members. There are strong opinions on both sides of the issue and it is likely that a resolution will not come soon.
One issue that is being overlooked in this whole debate is whether or not public school libraries and classrooms should be offering high quality literature that will engage and challenge the students to think beyond the boundaries of their limited space and time, or whether they should kowtow to the appetites of the students. Let’s face it, if given the choice, most children and teenagers are going to select books that appeal to their adolescent tastes and are easily digested. There is only so much time in a school day and room on the bookshelves. What we offer in the way of healthy, appropriate, and beneficial options for literature matters.
Just as schools can offer healthy options in the cafeteria to students whose families regularly eat junk food at home while not trying to shut down fast food restaurants, we are not suggesting that these books are never available or read by students. Public libraries and bookstores are still viable options for families who decide they want their children reading them. We just believe it is the role of the public schools, with their limited resources, to provide the best options to their students while they are there.
So, the paradox remains. Why would we strive to remove junk food from public school cafeterias only to fill our classroom and library shelves with “junk food” for their minds?