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Alisha Gorder: The Utah Legislature can’t tell me what books my children can read

Helping my child choose books and understand them is my job as a mom.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Park City School District offices in Park City on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

I don’t understand why the books children read in school are being policed by the Utah Legislature. It seems a large and intrusive overreach. I am a mom, and deciding what my kids read is my call, not theirs.

This isn’t a political matter. And it has no place in the local, state or national political realms.

Let me explain.

A few years ago, a well-intentioned family member sent my 8-year-old daughter the book, “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry. I love books (and this relative). I didn’t think twice when my daughter unwrapped her present and immediately went upstairs to read it.

By bedtime, she was about halfway through. I asked if she was enjoying it, and she said she was.

Then a little alarm went off in my head. I remembered there was “something controversial” about this book. But I hadn’t read it and couldn’t recall the issue.

So, I took the book and read it.

It turns out that “The Giver” is a story about a society in which everything seems perfect. There is no war, or hate, or poverty. Everybody is equal.

But “The Giver” doesn’t depict a utopia: It paints a world in which people are killed if they don’t fit in, don’t follow rules or aren’t useful anymore. In fact, the father in the story euthanizes a baby who won’t sleep through the night.

How scary is that?

My daughter was 8. I questioned the relative’s judgement who had sent the book. It turned out that she had never read it. But I had. And, my child was too young to experience such a scary premise, alone.

In the morning, my daughter picked up the book again. I sat down beside her and said, “There may be some upsetting things that happen in this book and I want to remind you that it is all fiction — made up — and if you have questions about it, I am here.”

She came to the part where the baby is “released.” Predictably, she was upset. She had questions. We talked through what a dystopian world is, what the author was trying to say, why it mattered, what was morally wrong about murdering a child. We made grilled cheese sandwiches and we talked and talked and talked.

So, what is my point? I’m her mom. I regularly help my children decipher a very confusing world. That is my job. My values come through when I interpret the things around us through my lens.

I teach my children what is morally and socially correct.

I don’t need a state Legislature full of people who don’t know me or my children deciding what we can read. I suspect that every family has its own comfort zone and limits. I’d never tell your family what they can or can’t read.

That said, I trust teachers to make age-appropriate and topic-appropriate reading selections for my children. They are educators with deep experience. I respect their profession.

And, if I don’t want my kids to read something, I can say “No, thank you” and opt out.

This is why I am so pleased to learn that the Board of Education in my town of Park City is considering how to push back against the Legislature’s gross overreach, which ham-handedly tries to define “sensitive teaching materials” and “prohibits their use in public schools.”

I can’t believe we are faced with such a thing in 2022.

Let’s be honest: The world is moving at record pace. Books are small potatoes. Children have access to the Internet, which is a treasure trove of human knowledge. It is also chock-full of depravity.

When the chaos of the world enters my home, the best thing I can do for my children is help them process it. I am here and being my children’s mother is my job.

I don’t need a nanny state limiting my family’s access to the world beyond our home. I like my job. What right do they have to fire me?

I can decide what works for us. Thus far, I’ve never had a politician in the house during homework hours. Have you?

Attempting to limit access to the greater world by limiting books is like trying to stop the tide. That tide will come in.

I can assure you that my kids will have me there when it does.

Alisha Gorder

Alisha Gorder is a wife and mom in Park City.