I’ve recently come across a problem in my 4th grade classroom. My students want to put stickers on everything.
Okay, maybe not everything. But it’s starting to feel that way. Every few days I have a student come up to me, eyes wide open, very deer-caught-in-headlights with a concern: they’ve seen or read something “inappropriate” in a book, and their answer is to cover whatever it is up with a sticker.
Aside from the fact that I can’t figure out why they chose stickers to solve the problem, I don’t know how to respond to the problem. I honestly don’t find half the things they think are inappropriate bad. In my opinion they’re over reacting.
For example, the other day one student approached me because in the book he was reading there was a “very bad word.” It was pointed out to me, and it was the shortened version of the name Richard. I was kinda surprised that my student would even recognize it was a “very bad word.” But nonetheless, I tried to explain that it was just another version of someone’s name. Like Nick for Nicholas. And so I told him he could not put a sticker on it. But he was still convinced someone could read it and take it the wrong way.
A few days before that a bunch of girls came to me with an Exploring Science book. They were very very deeply troubled by some pictures of men and women. They showed me the pictures and it was your standard and typical illustration of the human body. I don’t know if it’s because I went to a public school my whole life and I’ve been desensitized to things like this, but when I saw the picture all I saw was a scientific figure. And I tried to explain this to them. That the picture was only put in this book because it was for learning purposes. I also told them that this book was specifically made for kids their age. But a part of me felt like I was letting them down by telling them it was okay. They looked disappointed. So I told them instead of putting a sticker on it, if it made them feel uncomfortable, don’t read the book or don’t go to that page.
And finally, just yesterday a student of mine came to me with another book. This book is a historical fiction novel set in the South in the 1940s. He was worried because the N word was in the book. And so, of course, he wanted to put a sticker on it. As if the sticker would erase the problem of using the word. I flat out said no way. He was shocked. But I said that the word was used because it was meant to teach readers a lessons of how it can hurt people’s feelings when it is used in real life. And that the word is very much a part of the world and we can’t just erase it because it makes us feel bad.
I don’t know, am I handling this the wrong way? I don’t want them to think that nothing concerns me, but I just feel like they treat everything they see like it’s the dirtiest thing in the world. I think they need to learn to accept images and words in books for what they’re worth and move along.
Don’t get me wrong, I would never be so lax with words and images that were TRULY offensive and used inappropriately. I don’t stand behind F bombs or lude photographs, and I don’t want my students to think I do.
How would you advise them on these issues?