Reading & Literacy Opinion

A Student’s Plea: Don’t Shield Me From Problematic Conversations

By Eilise McLaughlin — August 27, 2019 2 min read

In my English class this year, we read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It is a book about Belgian imperialism in Africa from the perspective of a European man.

The book is complex and inspires a lot of debate. Upon finishing the novella, my class had a discussion about whether or not the book’s depiction of colonialism was racist. The consensus was that it was, but that left us all with the question, “Should this book still be read in schools?”

If we do not take the time to look back on our mistakes, we could find ourselves repeating them."

I spent a good couple of days thinking about my answer to this question. Of course, it is hard to read a book where ignorance toward other cultures is obvious, but did that mean we should not read it? I read a few articles about the book, some in favor of continuing to teach the book in schools, some adamantly against, and I came to a conclusion: Yes, the book is racist. Yes, it does not give the respect to the native Africans that it should. And, no, we should not stop reading it.

If we as a society choose to shield young people from controversial books, how will we understand what was once considered acceptable? Throughout history, major injustices have been righted or at least brought to light. If we do not take the time to look back on our mistakes, we could find ourselves repeating them. This is not only true of our history. We need to see multiple perspectives on current events as well. The only way to properly form an opinion is to have all the information. This can sometimes mean being exposed to unpleasantness or controversies.

This is a paradox of sorts because in order to resolve any controversy, one must dive into it. For example, at my school, boys’ and girls’ soccer teams were not treated equally in game announcements and field time. One way for a student to avoid this situation entirely is to enroll in an all-female school. But this does not fix the problem; it leaves it for other future students. My solution was to talk to the coaches and administration until we got both boys’ and girls’ games announced, and we both got to use the game field equally.

Reflecting on other vexing content I’ve been exposed to over time, I realize I have read books that are demeaning to women, seen movies with racist undertones, and so much more. I have asked myself who I would trust to sort or censor this information for me, no name has came to mind.

It is important for individuals to determine the issues that spark a passion in them. My best friends were exposed to the speakers who survived school shootings, and together they founded the March For Our Lives chapter at my school. Without witnessing these sometimes controversial speeches, they never would have started making strides for change in our community.

Sometimes being exposed to controversy is the only way that people can make the world change. It is the best way to learn from our mistakes, and no one else can make those decisions about what is or isn’t too controversial for us.

This essay was one of the four winning submissions in the “Think For Yourself” essay contest sponsored by Let Grow, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to childhood independence and resilience.

Follow the Education Week Opinion section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Opinion in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the August 28, 2019 edition of Education Week as Don’t Shield Me From Problematic Conversations: A Student Speaks Out


School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Opinion Science of Reading Advocates Have a Messaging Problem
Invoking science isn’t all it takes to be credible, especially on a debate as charged as literacy education, writes Claude Goldenberg.
Claude Goldenberg
5 min read
Tiny boy and girl stand on wide road in front keyhole entrance in book to narrower way
Tetiana5/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on What We Now Know: Literacy
In this Spotlight, review ways students can be supported; evaluate the struggles often seen when tech intertwines with literacy and more.
Reading & Literacy Struggling Readers Score Lower on Foundational Skills, Analysis of National Test Finds
The results paint a more detailed picture of students who are designated below basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
4 min read
Image of library shelves.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Whitepaper
The Power of Culturally Responsive Literacy Instruction
From breaking down barriers to equity to moving beyond skills-based instruction, this informative guide showcases the words and ideas of ...
Content provided by Achieve3000