In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul addresses corruption among Corinth’s early community of believers. At the time, some Christians in the Greek city had begun denying Jesus’s resurrection, leading to a focus on the temporal, not the eternal. St. Paul’s letter offers a strong admonishment: those in Corinth who associated with false teachers would fall prey to corruption. These associations would shape their habits and lead even the best-intentioned to mimic worldly lifestyles and adopt perverted ideas as normal. St. Paul is clear: “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Cor 15:33).
There are many forms of company to consider, of course, but as Catholic parents, there is one association my wife and I revisit every year around this time. Just as the forsythia begin to show a first sign of spring in New England, a banner with the happily bespectacled, book-loving owl gets pinned to the school playground fence. Soon after, a series of shiny flyers featuring cartoon images of innocent kittens and puppies begins to come home. School book fair season is once again upon us. And it’s an excellent time for Catholics to reconsider our association with Scholastic, the multi-billion-dollar global publishing company that enjoys a stranglehold on school classrooms—Catholic ones included.
On its website, Scholastic boasts that it reaches 90% of America’s early education centers and public and private elementary schools. The one-hundred-year-old company’s business model centers around deploying teaching resources—study guides and worksheets—to classrooms, and through such support, infiltrating curricula and effectively earning the buy-in of school stakeholders. With the boots of loyal instructors on the ground in classrooms, the company sends Scholastic materials home in backpacks to families around the country.
As a result, the brand solidifies mindshare and credibility downstream in time for book fair season when the cycle can be completed and the relationships cashed in on. Offering a curated selection of what the company calls “top-quality, age-appropriate children’s books at great values,” children buy the company’s books and, in return, teachers are rewarded with more free Scholastic materials for their classrooms.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Win-win.
Or is it?
Last June, Scholastic’s website proudly featured “Inspiring LGBTQIA+ Books for Kids.” The list included titles the company labeled “age-appropriate” for preschoolers like My Moms Love Me. The book features “rhyming, rhythmic text” and “luminous, glowing illustrations” which the company says makes it perfect for story time. Scholastic promotes the title as “a just right gift for new parents, Mother’s Day, baby showers and birthdays.”
Another title is Melissa. Again, from the company’s website: “When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.” Scholastic’s website description of the book informs readers that, thankfully, a classroom rendition of Charlotte’s Web enables the protagonist to proclaim the truth “once and for all.” The company deems the book “age-appropriate” for third graders.
A third book is King and the Dragonflies. It involves a 12-year-old boy’s discovery that he is gay. It received the National Book Award and Amazon lists it as a “Teacher’s Pick.” Scholastic targets this one at eight-year-olds.
Alice Austen Lived Here features “Sam” and his friend, T.J., both of whom the company tells us are “non-binary” and “very in touch with their own queer identity.” The company assures us that Sam’s family is “very cool with” both Sam and T.J. Scholastic selects this one for nine-year olds.
We haven’t even gotten into what Scholastic thinks a middle schooler is ready for.
At this point, we might pause to acknowledge the grumbling coming from the faculty lounge. Anytime a parent raises questions about books like these, which have been “curated” for school children, progressives get worked up into a lather: “Book banner!” they scream. Personally, I’m inclined to let them wail: few instances provide such great opportunity to reflect on the state of our unthinking culture.
In the event anyone requires clarification: parents of preschoolers typically don’t want their children encountering books with confusing messaging about the identity of Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy—let alone messaging about any of these topics—but they are not interested in banning anything. If adults want to independently buy these books for their children on Amazon or wherever else on their own time, that’s up to them. Such is not the situation here. Scholastic isn’t selling to parents. Scholastic is selling through the schools that children spend seven hours a day in without the supervision of parents. This “selling through” model is very purposefully different than the “selling to” strategy.
Unfortunately, this distinction is apparently lost on folks like Chasten Buttigieg, the latest pseudo celeb to lob the “book banner” charge against concerned parents. While Mayor Pete’s “hubby” may not understand the difference, marketers know exactly how this works and why it’s done. Seemingly mainstream, big companies like Scholastic can get away with a lot more and make a lot more money doing so while implementing a selling through strategy as opposed to a selling to strategy.
If Scholastic opted for the selling to strategy, the company’s income statement would likely look a lot like that of Lee & Low Books, which calls itself the “largest multi-cultural children’s book publisher in the United States.” The company has been publishing books in this space for over thirty years and has offerings like Sparkle Boy, a title targeted at kindergarteners, as well as Playing with Pronouns, a card game aimed at “expanding everyday understanding beyond the binary” targeted at four-year-olds.
It turns out, though, that this business isn’t nearly as lucrative when these products are actually sold to parents; financial disclosures indicate that Lee & Low’s revenue approximated $3 million in 2021. Scholastic makes $1.6 billion.
It’s not, of course, about banning books. It’s about informing parents that a wolf is prowling their children’s classroom. And we are allowing this association with Scholastic to corrupt our children’s souls.
So, if you are a Catholic parent with a public school child who will attend one of Scholastic’s 20,000 book fairs this year, it’s time to ask some questions of your school principal and librarian. Better yet, it’s time for you to make a visit to the school, peruse the display and walk the stacks. If you are a Catholic parent with a child in a Catholic school, the need to engage your school about making a change is obvious and the urgency to do so is great. There are alternatives and, if we assemble and get to the work of parenting, more providers will see a market for change beginning to form and may respond.
Several resources are here now and can begin to help.
“Good News! Book Fairs!” is a Catholic company with a physical presence in Florida and Ohio. They currently service in-person book fairs in both regions and have plans to expand to other areas. The company also offers virtual book fairs nationally throughout the United States.
“Heroes of Liberty” is not a Catholic company per se, but its mission is to prioritize tradition and the inculcation of virtue with its book club membership for children ages 6-12. Editor Bethany Mandel proudly views the company as “David” to Scholastic’s “Goliath.” With titles featuring Amy Coney Barrett, Thomas Sowell, Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman and others, HFL’s mission is to connect children “to their heritage and founding principles” and “bring magic, joy and laughter” back to bedtime.
Of course, sometimes local solutions make the most sense. I recently discovered that a Christian bookstore located within three miles of my children’s Catholic elementary school is already running a school book fair for a local Christian school and enthusiastically expressed willingness to consider servicing local Catholic schools as well.
None of this is to say that ending an association with Scholastic is easy. My guess is that most faithful Catholic school principals and administrators understand the problem but are anxious about how to effectively disentangle their schools from the company’s grip. In some situations, individual Catholic school leaders could and should get some critical help from their diocese and from the Catholic school superintendent.
In my home state of Rhode Island, for example, the situation is unique: the Diocese of Providence oversees every Catholic school in the state. If it ended Scholastic’s association with every one of its 28 pre-K-8 schools, then it would effectively open up an attractive market to which new providers could come in and compete for business. From a practical standpoint, perhaps a single-source provider of our own choosing would be the answer. Whoever won that business would certainly stand to benefit and, from a theological standpoint, the Diocese could free the faithful from a toxic association.
And as we revisit with greater care our associations, let us abide by St. Paul’s wisdom: “Be on guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1 Cor 16:13).
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Not sure why a school district would want to dump sexual identity responsibilities on their teachers. One question of a kid’s confusion would be one too many for yours truly. It seems that managing RWAC (reading, writing, arithmetic, computers) would be enough.
The head of the NEA? wonders why there are not more teachers here’s one reason.
I think the premise of your first sentence may be a bit off.
It’s not that school districts are dumping such responsibilities on their teachers. There are no standardized tests – yet – of students’ “competency” with such topics as “proper” use of latex prophylactics and memorization of an ever-expanding vocabulary of genders and pronouns. K-12 students find the challenges of mathematics, science and critical thinking boring. Teachers find conveying lessons in such topics to such students challenging and difficult. “I can teach LESS of that drudgery to bored students in favor of this other stuff that they find exciting, and for which I won’t be held accountable, and for which I’ll get paid just the same?” That’s the educator’s math on this. The incentives are similar all the way up the educational food chain.
With that in mind, there should be absolutely no surprise how willing teachers and school districts are to engage in this madness considering the incentives they’re presented. It’s also no wonder school districts feel threatened when parents call them out on matters like this, and that progressive allies like the “spouse” of our nation’s transportation secretary (??) would feel the need to defend against parental demand for change.
There are, as we know, limits to free speech. You cannot, for example, falsely yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre or threaten other people with violence. The alphabet agenda should be added to these free speech exceptions, especially when it comes to “educating” preschoolers and other minors that breaking the natural law is permissible. One cannot change one’s gender by mutilating one’s body. No matter how many surgeries deform the human body, the DNA remains constant. You are the gender you were born to be, and no operation will change that. Common sense is being taken out of the public discourse, and too many Americans are standing by, doing nothing to support natural laws that are immutable. Stand up for the innocence of children, as a minimum action against this illogical and immoral agenda.
I’m pretty sure that even the most progressive folks have books they would like to see banned from school libraries.
We all have standards and boundaries but differing values.
They’re actually “regressives”, as they want us to completely legalize child sacrifice & the killing of those who do not “contribute” to society at large – much like the pagan societies of old. Besides, the books that the regressives want to ban are classics by authors like Shakespeare, Twain, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, etc., not to mention books like the Bible.
Interested in Jelinek’s critique of Scholastic as provider for Catholic schools and LGBT I perused their material online. Well, one needs to survey the material to be convinced that their LGBT books are indoctrination.
Even if Catholic schools avoid ordering the LGBT books I have to agree with Prof Jelinek, That bad company will corrupt good morals. For example, if their LGBT material promotes disordered behavior, it’s likely there’ll be at least a nuance of that favorable perception in their other material. Jelinek notes it sends its materials to schools, and further, “the company sends Scholastic materials home in backpacks to families around the country”.
The young are curious and with the expertise the young have with technology there’s likelihood some will explore their LGBT material and spread the findings with others. We’ve reached a stage of virtual warfare with the permissive culture that’s imposing its bankrupt morals wherever and however it can. Jelinek rightly proposes a break with Scholastic and turning to other suggested sources. Our problem is bishops who are as permissive as those who promote moral disorder.
Great info. Hope Catholic School principles and teachers and parents with students in Catholic Schools read this article and take appropriate actions. Unfortunately many Catholics are so “wishy washy” in their faith they have no issues with Scholastic.
“Teach your children well”.
Appreciate the article. Frankly, I’m surprised that schools still have “book fairs.” I thought this had gone away along with the school “fun fairs” that featured games like “Go Fish,” where the 6th graders would hang up a sheet across two chairs, and the little ones could dangle a fishing line with a magnet over the sheet and “catch” a little prize. I have an extensive collection (hundreds) of a amazing children’s books that have shaped my character–I work with children in choirs, and if I may say so without sounding like a braggart, kids love me because I’ve never forgotten what it feels like to be a child! Perhaps the “book fairs” should be replaced with “book borrowing parties” at old ladies’ houses like mine! I’ll even make cookies!