Binghamton’s Lesson Too Far

One of the three foundational components of a public education, children need to read. Part of that is to teach them to love reading, to want to read, and part of imparting an appreciation of books is to read books to them so they learn to love books and want to read. So far, so good. But as long as we’re reading books to them, why not use the opportunity to send a message, to teach them something that the teachers believe they should know?

Heather has Two Mommies was published in 1989. In 2020, Ibram Kendi published Antiracist Baby. In between, a book was published that received somewhat less attention than either of these, but is coming into its own in the current climate. The MacArthur Elementary School in  Binghamton, NY, put up a Youtube of someone reading Something Happened in Our Town for its students to watch. The Binghamton Police were not amused.

The Binghamton Police Benevolent Association and its members were made aware of a video created by school district staff reading the book “Something Happened In Our Town” that was placed on YouTube for students and their classes to watch. We learned the book was chosen as April’s Book of the Month to teach students about Tolerance.

The Binghamton Police Benevolent Association feels that this book can leave children with several erroneous impressions:

  • Children should not trust, and should be afraid of the police
  • Police stop, arrest, and kill black people for no other reason than their race
  • Police are racist
  • Police are not held accountable for their actions and indiscretions.

While the theme attempting to be promoted in this story was tolerance, it is the opinion of the P.B.A. there is a blatant anti-police message portrayed in the book. Specific examples from the story include but are not limited to:

  • It wasn’t a mistake, said her sister Liz. The cops shot him because he’s black”.
  • “But he won’t go to jail” said his father. “Cops stick up for each other”, said Josh’s brother Malcolm. “And they don’t like black men”.
  • “There are many cops, black and white, who make good choices,” said his father. “But we can’t always count on them to do what’s right.”
  • “That’s not fair. What if it was a white man in the car? Would the police have shot him”? “They probably wouldn’t have even stopped the car.”

We agree there are necessary conversations and dialogue to be had about tolerance, race, and what children can do to be a part of the change and solution not only in their schools, but their community as well. The P.B.A. whole heartedly supports bringing people together to strengthen and create strong relationships and connections within our community. We are committed to and invested in the children and families who reside in the City of Binghamton to which we took an oath to serve and protect. While we recognize that it is not incumbent on us to determine what should be taught in schools, we feel that the language in this book works to undermine public safety and will leave children with the impression that they cannot trust the police.

Not having my finger on the pulse of Binghamton, I don’t know whether there is a local reason why this book was selected. As part of a nationwide discussion, it’s somewhat understandable, given that police abuse and racism are huge issues. That said, the book sends a very clear message, particularly since it’s directed to young minds in the process of being shaped and likely to form a perspective within which to view the police as they grow. Was this information or indoctrination?

There is a strong movement within education to teach our children well about the evils of racism. Pedagogy is in a constant search for relevance, and latching onto new crusades that become a teaching duty has become an accepted, embedded, element of education. The issue isn’t whether there’s anything wrong with that, although parents may question whether it’s a teacher’s job, or their job, to instill a sense of morality and justice in young students. Surely, no one wants students to learn to be racist in school, but teaching students to be antiracists has different implications.

But what of the police? To some extent, they brought this upon themselves. There is racism. There is needless violence. Cops have, with some notable exceptions, avoided the consequences for their excesses. Each of these truisms, however, require a level of maturity and understanding to appreciate. In the hands of children, this “lesson” creates a serious, perhaps even indelible, impression that the police are dangerous and bad. The consequences of instilling this belief in young children could be disastrous. It’s also untrue and unfair.

Of course, this was a children’s book, and can’t be expected to be highly nuanced. Lessons for children must be clear and simple. And as Mencken might add, wrong. The school district took down the video and issued this statement.

The book reflects a national topic that is current and impacts many of our students and their families. While the book includes conversation around racial bias and injustice against African Americans, the concepts are focused on the importance of treating everyone fairly. As the book shares, “there are many cops, black and white, who make good choices.” The dialogue following the reading of this book draws awareness to bias, emphasizing that it is not okay to judge people based on their race, what they look and sound like, or the role they play in the community.

In an effort to teach about tolerance, the book was shared with students in small reading groups. Teachers were provided the necessary resources to handle the important questions and dialogue that may arise after reading the book. The intent behind the use of the book was to promote inclusion and anti-racism.

Some parents might agree with the district that teaching tolerance, inclusion and anti-racism is both a good thing and an appropriate thing for a public school to do. Some parents might believe it’s their responsibility to teach such things to their children. But most parents will be unaware that their kids are being taught the lesson that they should resist police, fear police, because they’re bad, racist, violent people bent on doing harm. That might be a lesson too far.

8 thoughts on “Binghamton’s Lesson Too Far

  1. Conner Leo

    Having sat down to baby sit my niece and nephew while their mother was in the hospital. The cartoons of my youth leading up to the cartoons of today paint police only one way. That police were absolutel authorities. You can’t question them and attempting to find fault with police is simply impossible.

    It made me a little queasy watching these shows and their message of police as an untouchable absolutel authoritie.

      1. B. McLeod

        And the similar “untouchables” as portrayed in the animated Dick Tracy series (probably banned today due to some of the “ethnic” police characters).

    1. iowan2

      That’s exactly the way we raised our kids. Adults were the absolute authority. Store clerk, bus driver, teacher pastor, babysitter. Follow orders without question. If they had doubts, follow the orders and tell us when we met up. WE, the parents would listen and take action. But we always support our children. No matter what. Right or wrong.
      Police?
      Follow their direction. Understand police assume everyone means to do them harm. Understand the Police will assume you want to do them harm. Give them Zero reason to act on those assumptions. Follow the orders. Police are judge jury and executioner on the street. Follow their orders. The process is your protection. Your constitutionally protected rights don’t kick in until you are behind bars.

      Train your kids however you want. We trained ours to stay alive.
      (this is WHITE rural flyover country. we gave our kids “the talk”, Just like my parents gave the same talk in the 60’s)

  2. PML

    When I went to school Many, Many moons ago the schools were there to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic and a few other courses. No one taught touchy feely crap.

    They need to return to the basics and leave the SJW crap to the parents to teach as they see fit.

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