Finally, people on the political left and right have found something on which they agree.
Conservatives and liberals seem almost unanimous in their opinion that a Mississippi school was ridiculous and wrong to bar the use of the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” in eighth-grade classes.
The 1960 Harper Lee novel delves into such topics as friendship, family, racism, fear and justice, mostly from a child’s perspective.
The Biloxi school district said the Pulitzer Prize winning work was unfit for its eighth-graders because it made some students — well, really one parent and one grandparent — uncomfortable.
According to news accounts, two adults complained to school officials about the use of racial slurs in the book. The objections came even though the book clearly paints bigotry and violence as things to be rejected.
The school officials caved quickly and easily, reinforcing the arguments of those on the right who claim public education has become unwilling and unable to tolerate unpopular ideas and speech.
On the left, critics were just as quick to criticize the Biloxi school officials for taking away from children one of the more compelling and instructive novels used to engage and educate young teens.
Last week, Biloxi school officials said they had reversed course. They will again allow the novel to be taught in the classroom, but only if students bring permission slips from their parents.
While a move in the right direction, the officials really missed the point — and a great opportunity to educate kids and the community.
They should know better than most that the goal of education is not to make students comfortable.
If they do their jobs well, schools push children out of their comfort zones. They challenge students in productive ways — intellectually, socially and physically.
Challenging students means getting them out of their comfort zones. Urging them to confront new information, broaden their view of the world, expand their understanding of people, and question the status quo — all are essential to learning.
A look at our political discourse today underscores the problem of insulating ourselves from discomforting ideas and speech. Too many of us immediately dismiss and condemn views and information that doesn’t suit our own biases and beliefs.
For example, on the left, there are those who think the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to white nationalists who fuel hate and bigotry.
And on the right, there are those who think it shouldn’t apply to people who kneel rather than stand during the national anthem.
Neither side is willing to tolerate the discomfort created by ideas and speech with which they disagree. They want their political opponents barred from practicing free speech in ways that make them uncomfortable.
On the left, they say they feel unsafe or threatened. On the right, they use words like disrespectful and unpatriotic.
Even many Americans in the middle seem willing to accept more limits on people’s rights. The anger on the extreme left and right make them uncomfortable, so further limiting the rights of political expression could ease their anxiety.
Such limits, however, undermine the most fundamental American ideals.
Just as importantly, they create a dangerous pretense.
When unity is the result of legal arm twisting, you don’t have real unity. You have repression.
And when comfort comes at the expense of confronting and discussing such subjects as bigotry and justice in a novel, the sense of security created is artificial and fleeting.
It makes no sense to pretend to eighth-graders that racial slurs don’t exist and never have when they continue to be used by bigots on a daily basis.
To prepare students for the world that awaits them, schools should equip them with a realistic view of that world and the critical thinking skills needed to improve it. That’s true not just on issues of social studies and literature, but also when it comes to math, science and other subjects.
Schools and students should not shy away from hard truths and instructive discussion.
Some of those discussions — think the Holocaust, climate change, evolution, slavery and segregation, for example — will create discomfort.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s how we learn and grow.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.