House Education Committee addressing real needs of students and their families, not culture wars

I thoroughly enjoyed reading in high school.  

I related to Holden Caufield’s teenage disillusionment in the Catcher in the Rye. My early political views were shaped in large part through novels like Animal Farm and The Lord of the Flies; and my healthy cynicism, and randomly, the embrace of my Irish heritage began when I read A Modest Proposal.   

My senior year English teacher, Ms. Barbara Psathas, knew that I gained much through reading (she taught me as a sophomore as well) and gave me an assignment to write a report on another important piece of American literature. This time, I wasn’t going to read about someone like me, but rather about a little black girl growing up post Great Depression.  

Toni Morrison’s seminal work, The Bluest Eye, is not something I would have picked up at the Allentown Public Library or at my local Waldenbooks (yes, I am willfully dating myself with that reference). But being exposed to something that was so far outside of my comfort zone helped me developed a sense of empathy and humanity.  

This was 1996 – nearly thirty years ago while attending a conservative, mostly white religious high school (Allentown Central Catholic High School), in a blue-collar town (Allentown, PA).  

If I attended high school today, the odds are that I wouldn’t read The Bluest Eye as it is the third most banned book in the United States according to the American Library Association.  

Today, I have the honor and responsibility to serve as Majority Chair of the House Education Committee at a time when we are facing a major crossroads in education.  

Although I am a proud Democrat, as a legislator I know it is incumbent upon us to address major policy issues in a bipartisan way. We actively work with our colleagues from across the aisle and it is with immense pride that we have often achieved significant legislative wins with genuine Republican support.  

Together we have passed more than two dozen bills in the House that would: 

  • Fund schools equitably while ensuring that all kids have the tools they need to succeed 
  • Address the deplorable conditions of our school buildings including removing asbestos and lead paint
  • Ease the massive teacher shortages being felt in urban, suburban, and rural schools; and 
  • Lower the cost of higher education and create more opportunities for career and technical education 

In other words, the House Education Committee is addressing the real needs of students and their families.  

I genuinely wish the State Senate would prioritize those real issues. Instead, just this week, they passed legislation that – you guessed it – would ban books like The Bluest Eye 

Newer young adult novels like The Hunger Games and classics of American literature like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are also often targets for radical book banners.  

Even To Kill a Mockingbird, which I first read in 7th grade, again in a mostly white, conservative religious based K-8 school, is routinely challenged and removed from curriculum. 

By embracing this form of government censorship, the Senate is actively undermining teachers, librarians, and parents who are always looking for effective ways to educate children.  

Just as importantly, by focusing in on hot-button culture wars issues and not addressing the actual needs of students and their families, the Senate is just wasting everyone’s time.  

Again, we have real issues facing our system of education and the children it serves including decades of underfunding, toxic classrooms, teacher shortages, and college affordability. 

The House has led the way in prioritizing those concerns and others. We have done so effectively and in a genuinely bipartisan manner. And we will not waste your time chasing hot-button culture war issues at the expense of all of our children.  

As chair of this committee, we will continue to focus on ensuring that our students have equal access to a top-quality system of education, in buildings that won’t poison our kids, and with the right number or qualified teachers. We will work to make college and career and technical school more accessible.  

And we will make sure that kids have all the books they want, need, and deserve.