KHOU-11 news reported yesterday that Spring Branch Independent School District in Houston, Texas canceled a field trip to see a production of “James and the Giant Peach” at Houston’s Main Street Theater.
Many teachers are familiar with Roald Dahl’s classic story of a boy named James who finds a magical peach. So why did the district cancel the field trip?
Was inclement weather to blame?
A transportation strike?
A decision to prioritize standardized test prep over the fine arts?
No. The decision was made after parents raised concerns that some actors play both male and female roles.
Parents of Spring Branch ISD students were sent this communication on Thursday:
“We received feedback from employees and other adults who attended Main Street Theater’s production of James and the Giant Peach that expressed concern over elements of the performance that were not age-appropriate for elementary students.
Based on the concerns we heard, the decision was made to request campuses planning to attend make alternative arrangements. My responsibility is to ensure that content students are exposed to during school hours is age appropriate. Given the information we had, the decision was made to err on the side of caution. Please understand these decisions are not always easy to make and are always done in the best interest of our students.”
We have… questions.
Who are “and other adults”? Why might a district not want to mention that parents—like parent Jessica Gerland who openly talked to news station KHOU—were behind this decision?
Why not be clear about what elements of the performance weren’t age-appropriate? Might it be embarrassing to admit that you canceled a field trip because of make-believe? Or did you know full well it would open the district up to criticism it wasn’t prepared to defend?
Also, if a boy playing a girl’s part forced you to “err on the side of caution,” what else are you willing to abandon in the name of caution? Should we allow high school students to play sports or drive to school? Should we turn off all electronics in school buildings when it rains? Should we even teach kids how to read if the threat of what they could learn in books is so catastrophic?
But even without our questions, comments from the public poured in with their own points. Some were about the district:
“The real issue here is not the illogical parent who clearly has no idea how theater has ever worked but the school district who pandered to her.”
“Welcome to Gilead. This is ridiculous. It’s a play, for heaven’s sake. It’s MAKE BELIEVE. How embarrassing that the district caved.”
Some were about the parents who complained:
“Why do people feel the need to force their bias on others? Keep your kids home if you have issues with the play.”
“If she did not approve, she should have kept her child at home. End of story. She does not have the right to make those types of decisions for others.”
And some were about acting and theater in general:
“Do they also have issue with actors playing across species?”
“Good grief! I played a wise man in our middle school Christmas play, oh the horror.”
“They’re in for a shock when they see Peter Pan.”
“They’ve been doing that since Shakespeare…”
But as fun as it can be to laugh about the hypocrisy here, we have to remember who loses in all of this. When books are banned, when history is whitewashed, when field trips are canceled, when decisions are made for everyone else’s children based on what isn’t right for one child, it’s the kids who lose.
The kids lose every time.