A text on the Common Core reading list for third graders in the state of New York is called “Nasreen’s Secret School.”
It tells the story of a little girl, Nasreen, who lives in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. After her parents “disappeared” with no explanation, Nasreen is understandably unhappy and won’t talk to anyone. She eventually finds some degree of satisfaction after her grandmother enrolls her in a secret school the Taliban doesn’t know about—and for God’s sake, hopefully won’t find out about.
The book is optional, which means that teachers can choose to assign it or not.
The author of the book, Jeanette Winter, is an elderly art school graduate who has almost certainly never once set foot in Afghanistan.
Newsday rosily argues that story provides important lessons for every American eight-year-old: Gender equality and universal schooling are good. Brutal repression may end up as your lot in life. Also, your parents may get inexplicably dragged off and probably killed by murderous thugs.
One mother in Suffolk, N.Y. said the discussion about freedom and persecution she had with her third-grade son after he read the book was “one of the most poignant points of the school year,” according to the Long Island newspaper.
Many other parents are less than thrilled about the story, however.
In three Long Island towns (Southold, Islip and West Islip), parents have demanded that the local school boards get rid of “Nasreen’s Secret School” as well as another, similar book by Winter called “The Librarian of Basra.”
A Southold school board member, Scott DeSimone, charged that both books have a “pro-Muslim agenda,” says Newsday.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn child psychologist and author Laura Markham is less conspiratorial in her analysis.
“Nasreen’s Secret School” “teaches that parents can be taken away by soldiers and never return,” Markham told Newsday in an email. “It should not be part of the core curriculum. This is not banning books, this is leaving the parents in charge.”
Earlier this week, parents in the Wappingers Central school district in New York’s Hudson Valley voiced similar concerns at a school board meeting that became so contentious the sheriff had to be called.
“This book is a realistic portrayal of war,” social worker and mother Alicia Alfred said at the meeting, according to the Hudson Valley Reporter. “In no way do I find it appropriate for third graders. I would ask the district that they screen their books and that [parents] a get a list of books you approve so that we can screen them too. It’s disheartening to me that the board is not respectful of what these mothers have to say.”