July 20, 2023

Lauren Bouchard: Students can handle exposure to different world views in school. It’s adults who are fragile.

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Lauren Bouchard, an opinion contributor for USA Today, asks just who is supposed to be protected by reading restrictions.

I graduated from Hamilton Southeastern Schools in 2009. I grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck as background noise in my home.

I took AP government from a teacher with a cardboard cutout of President Ronald Reagan in the front of the classroom. I dedicated myself to the evangelism of others in my school, such as when I preached the Gospel to my AP literature class with the Lifehouse “Everything” YouTube skit during our existential unit. I was the real deal.

Among all these influences, I still graduated as a deeply sad, emotionally damaged queer kid. And if my effort could have changed the course of my life, I would not be the expansive person I am today.

This year, I read Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” the most banned book in the United States, and I cried realizing how much that memoir could have eased my adolescent shame and isolation. After years of feeling uncomfortable with myself, I have been able to heal, and the last thing I want is LGBTQ+ students to have similar experiences as I had growing up.

My solace at school was in my English teachers. They did not know I was queer but saw a funny, inquisitive intellectual deviant. I am alive (and successful) today because of their compassion.

We read and discussed things that were uncomfortable, such as the themes of war, desperation, racism and injustice in novels such as “Heart of Darkness,” “Invisible Man,” “Waiting for Godot” and “The Grapes of Wrath.” Despite the claims that these topics are too much or that books in the library are inappropriate – students are not fragile.

By introducing difficult topics in the classroom, my English teachers made me better prepared for the everyday disagreeableness of adulthood. The fundamental changes in my life did not occur because I read a book about sex, racism, gender identity or puberty (God forbid) – it was because I learned to have conversations and sit with my dissonance.

Read the full op-ed here. 

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