By Deborah Menkart
His buildings reached into the sky.
His businesses just grew and grew.
Then Trump became our president — people wanted something new.
Believe it or not, this poem is included in a picture book about President Trump, published by Scholastic Inc. for 5- to 7-year-olds — and sums up its message.
A companion version for 8- to 12-year-olds is no better. It dedicates 10 glowing pages to Trump’s business career, high-rises, and casinos, but does not include any reference to his outspoken racism, sexism, and xenophobia.
There is a page dedicated to New York City’s Central Park where Trump is credited with rebuilding the Wollman ice skating rink in 1986. No mention is made of another Central Park story, Trump’s crusade against the Central Park Five (all teenagers at the time), including spending $85,000 in 1989 for full-page ads in all four New York daily newspapers calling for a reinstatement of the death penalty. This is a crucial story for understanding Trump’s long history of using racism and law-and-order rhetoric to garner support.
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By dedicating most of the book to Trump’s fancy buildings and TV shows, the implication is that his business experience and stardom led to his election. Although there are a couple of references to prejudice and discrimination, racism is not mentioned once.
The books were released soon after the election and received little public criticism until one of our Teaching for Change staff members saw them at an early childhood teacher workshop.
We were horrified since we know that Scholastic has a wide reach. They are the largest publisher and distributor of children’s books in the United States and they have no real competition for school book fairs.
In June 2018 we published critical reviews of the books. Within a month, more than 1,000 educators, parents, librarians, and concerned citizens took action by writing to Scholastic with their concerns, such as this one:
Today, more than ever, we owe our children an education that helps them think critically and suss out the truth from amidst a confusing array of half-truths, manipulations, and outright lies. Just because someone has attained a position of power doesn’t mean that person is above reproach. Our children should not be taught to follow anyone blindly, even the president. They deserve better.
Jamie Wallace Ipswich, Massachusetts
Scholastic did not respond.
Eventually, right-wing media outlets jumped on the story, eager to spin the call for an accurate portrayal of Trump into a partisan plea to censor any children’s book featuring the president. Distorted coverage and attacks rolled in from Breitbart, Fox News, and more.
Only then, a week after the initial critique was published and with hundreds of letters unanswered, did Scholastic finally issue a statement from Chairman and CEO Richard Robinson.
Scholastic did not respond to any of the points made in our review, and instead claimed that “most of the teachers and librarians we serve would agree that discussing controversial aspects of any public figure’s life isn’t appropriate for our youngest readers.”
Actually, most educators do not agree with the Scholastic statement, and many responded to Scholastic on social media.
Our campaign now continues with the demand that Scholastic halt distribution of the books and issue nonfiction titles that can legitimately be called nonfiction.
Visit www.teachingforchange.org to learn more and to add your voice to the campaign. Deborah Menkart is the executive director of Teaching for Change.