The push for a green education

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on December 30, 2020

COVID-19 and quarantine restrictions took so much from us but one of the few positive developments was a renewal of appreciation for our environment. My social media news feed was flooded with posts about plants last year. People bartered, paid, or asked for them. A few unscrupulous ones even went to extremes and stole the more expensive varieties. My friends gamely labeled themselves as certified plantitos and plantitas, taking the time to grow exotic plants or even develop gardens. They identified plants according to their scientific names, shared their characteristics, and exchanged care tips.

This rekindled interest in plants made me think about the current state of our environmental education. Yes, we have our Science subjects and the occasional experiments at schools but there is no organized effort to teach our students how nature functions and how our behaviors affect our health and ecological sustainability.

I am reminded of the school principals’ trip to Norway we took on May, 2019. The highlight of the educational trip was the visit to two outdoor schools an hour and a half outside of the capital, Oslo. We first visited the forest school Kausvol Kindergarten in Stange. Students feed animals, plant, harvest, and cook. They also get training on using farm tools. I was impressed how children expertly whittled wood with sharp chisels! They took naps inside forest huts but the young students literally spend their days outside, no matter what the weather is. They had nutrition breaks and lunches outside when possible.

The second visit was to Hamar Naturskole. The school is owned by the municipality and do not have its own students. It serves other schools and kindergartens by providing specialized instruction on nature, the environment, outdoor life, and cultural connections. We followed a group of middle school students that were monitoring traps and learning survival techniques such as collecting water from the trees. They learned through activity in nature, developing and completing problem-based learning activities. They worked together, thereby developing social and collaboration skills.

This visit inspired me to focus on green initiatives at my school. We can pivot adults’ renewed interest on plants and gardening to develop a national green education curriculum to bring learning outdoors so students can experience how to care for the environment firsthand. We can even start with a regional initiative with  public and private schools focusing on developing students’ knowledge of the indigenous area, learn the proper process of caring for plants and animals, and how these actions can ensure the sustainability of food sources and protect our environment for generations to come.

Maya and Her Loyal Friends, the first book of our Maya Storybook series promoting Waray culture, arts and traditions, is now available on Kindle and paperback on Amazon and Google Books websites. The first story has the English-Waray edition and the English-Filipino edition translated by award-winning actor Diether Ocampo. The books are available for purchase at JE Mondejar Computer College in Brgy. Naga-Naga, Tacloban City. Call +63 53 832 3023 for orders.

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The need to read

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on January 8, 2021

I love to read, a personal interest nurtured by my parents who always brought me books as pasalubong from their business trips to Manila or Cebu. I started writing for The Maya Series as a passion project to promote our Waray arts, culture, and traditions, and contribute to Waray literature. More importantly, I wanted to share my love of reading and encourage reading not just as a school requirement but as a hobby for students. With so many distractions vying for the attention of young people’s free time today, reading for pleasure cannot be overstated. We know that good readers make for smart students. Evidence also show that reading has a profound impact on a person’s life long after leaving the classroom. Research commissioned by The Reading Agency in the UK found that reading for pleasure not only improves relationships with others, it provides many health benefits including reduced symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.

The need to read should be one of the national priorities. Our children are simply not reading enough. Philippines ranked the lowest in reading out of 79 countries in 2018, the most recent year the triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) was administered. 15-year old Filipino students scored 340 points compared to the average of 487 points attained by member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Broken down by gender, our boys scored an average of 325 points compared to our girls with 352 points.

So how do we tackle this problem and where do we start? We can adopt a two-prong school and home approach. We need to look at our daily class schedule and find out how much time we spend on reading. Let’s provide more support in grades K-2 where students are learning to read. At around grade 3, students start reading to learn; let’s provide more reading materials and resources. Much like training for a sport, reading stamina can be developed through practice and technique. It is important to put books of various genres in the hands of our students; they do not even have to be physical books. There are many websites offering free access to thousands of ebooks such as the International Children’s Digital Library and Project Gutenberg. At home, let us make the time to read to our children, read with our children, or let the children read on their own. According to Nagy and Herman, a student who reads at least 20 minutes every night will have read a staggering 1.8 million words in a school year! Compare that to a student who spends only five minutes a day reading resulting to just 282,000 words in a school year, or another student who reads just one minute a day will only read 8,000 words. You can expect that a student with an extensive vocabulary will not only be successful at school, but also in life. 

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An susumaton

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on January 22, 2021

I spent my childhood in the mid-70s when life was simpler. The internet and smartphones were unheard of and we had limited choices of shows to watch on television. Instead, I spent a lot of time helping out at our parents’ printing company or with friends playing games like moro-moro, latik-latik, and Chinese garter. At the end of the day, my siblings and I eagerly finished dinner to get ready for bed and settle down for the best time of the evening: listening to susumaton.

Susumaton means to tell, from the Waray verb sumat, and refers to a broad classification of oral folk tales. Hart and Hart in their 1966 research Cinderella in the Eastern Bisayas: With a Summary of the Philippine Folktale broke these stories down into four major susumaton categories in Leyte and Samar. The locals listened to fabula or fables, bida or legends, macatatawa/pinosong or comedy, and maglao-ay or obscene tales.

The susumaton we heard were about encounters with fantastical beings, local legends, supernatural traditions, Aesop-like fables, and comical experiences of ordinary people. We listened to susumaton from just about any adult: our parents, grandmother, aunts, and visitors. Our first question to new members of the household staff was whether or not they knew some susumaton. Brownouts in the city and candles in the house were perfect backdrops for scary stories. Our imagination ran wild with vivid descriptions of flying half-bodied aswangs (witches) and night-colored cigar-smoking kapres (tree demons). As we grew older, we took turns adapting stories and telling them in the most dramatic way possible.

Telling susumaton is an art form. One needs to remember these stories which are often long and elaborate, experiment with voices for different characters, act out different scenes, and deliver the comedic punchlines. The earliest record of susumaton in the region was a book of 89 fabulas published in 1890 by Father Juan Navarette, the parish priest of Borongan from 1840 to 1854. Susumaton gained widespread popularity in the 70s through the late radio announcer Rene Pilande’s Johnny Pusong on the DYVL station.

Today, Waray susumaton as a whole is in decline because of the digital focus on printed literature and the current preference for visual media. We can look at what other countries have done to preserve this aspect of their cultural identity. The United States, China, India, Ghana, and Ecuador are just five of the nine countries in four continents that are using online archiving of audio and video recordings to preserve endangered oral literature. This project is funded by The World Oral Literature Project established at University of Cambridge in 2009 and co-hosted by Yale University since 2011 with the mission to collect, protect and connect oral traditions around the world.

The initiative to preserve Waray susumaton can follow this template. Academic scholars, government agencies, or private groups can work together to use the social media platform to crowd source and find these susumatons to be submitted online. We can leverage technology to transform these into audio books for millennials to enjoy and for a society to preserve its culture through literature. It’s a lot of work but it can be done.

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Success in America: Rey Badajos Dacul

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on March 8, 2021

There is no definite path to success. Yet while the definition and benchmarks of accomplishment are different to each person, successful people share common strategies and traits to get them where they are. One Filipino educator who is a success in the United States of America is Rey Badajos Dacul of Basey, Samar.

I first met Rey more than 20 years ago when I visited Basey National High School in Samar as a speaker for Career Day. He was the young teacher that hosted the event. We recently reconnected through Facebook and I was impressed with what he has achieved not only for himself and his family but also for his fellow Filipino educators in America. His rise from an English teacher to an administrator of the District of Columbia Public Schools in Washington D.C., his leadership with United Federation of Fil-Am Educators (UNIFFIED) – Washington DC Chapter, and his numerous national educator and leadership awards are truly remarkable and admirable. He graciously shared some tips on making it big in the land of opportunities.

Aspire and explore. Coming to America was a dream come true for Rey. He was inspired to travel by one of his professors at Leyte Normal University. He wanted to provide a better life for his family and inspire the community that he lived in. He also considers himself a risk taker and an explorer. According to Rey, “my principle in life is to try and try until you succeed. There is no harm in trying. Whatever happens in the end, you cannot blame yourself because you tried.” His life-changing decision was the result of an unplanned visit to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) where he saw an advertisement and decided to apply to be an English teacher in the US.

Plan. Before trying something, always look at the possibilities and make plans. Rey had 15 years of teaching experience, was a master teacher, and served as adviser of two school papers at Basey National High School before applying for the US. Homesickness was part of the initial adjustment to life in a different country but he planned for this by keeping himself busy, meeting people and being involved in the community.

Give back. For Rey, true success is not just the ability to live a comfortable life but, more importantly, the ability to help others. He is the president of UNIFFIED in Washington D.C., the fastest growing association of teachers. His biggest accomplishment to date is founding the UNIFFIED DC Cooperative, a non-profit cooperative that started with just 22 teachers. Today, there are hundreds of Filipino teachers and professionals in its current membership roster. The cooperative provides regular loans anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 and gives its members cash dividends and patronage refund at the end of the year. He replicated the success of this first cooperative by establishing five other different cooperatives specifically for Filipino professionals across the country. He is also the founder of Gift of Knowledge Project for the Philippines and Waray-Waray Association of America, and one of the founding members of Filipino American Cancer Care.

For all his accomplishments, Rey remains humble and grounded. “I just want to continue to help people,” he said. “I will settle in Basey when I retire but I plan to visit the United States often. I also want to continue my community service, especially in education.” Indeed, there are many interpretations and paths to success. Rey found his path and intends to stay on it.

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Coronormal

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on March 6, 2021

On Monday, February 22nd, Australia began rolling out its voluntary mass vaccination program. United Kingdom began earlier on December 8, 2020, with almost 18 million people getting the first dose. The United States started in mid-December and has vaccinated 64.2 million people to date. According to the Bloomberg news site, 206 million doses have already been administered in 92 countries. Apart from the first world, 85 percent of countries have not even started vaccinations yet. At this rate, Bloomberg estimated it will take a little less than five years to cover 75 percent of the 7.8 billion world population with the two-dose vaccine.


In the Philippines, Rappler reported that 1.7 million is expected to be inoculated in the first quarter of 2021. 10-15 million doses for vulnerable and frontline sectors are targeted for the second quarter, and 25 million people are scheduled for the third quarter. By the fourth quarter, the Philippine government expects to have vaccinated 50-70 million Filipinos.


Will it ever be the normal that we know of, ever again? Will we be able to sustain the lockdowns, travel restrictions, and school closures until everyone has been vaccinated? Asian Development Bank reported that private school enrollment has fallen by 50.4 percent this school year and the drop will probably stretch into the next school year. The decline in private school enrollment resulted to 200,000 people losing their education-related jobs and a 16 billion-peso negative impact on the Philippine economy.
The path to normalcy is still far and unassured, but it is at the very least, in sight. Preliminary research by Public Health Scotland found that, four weeks after the first dose, hospital admissions fell by 85 percent and 94 percent from the two vaccine brands the government are using.


We cannot force the return to the normal way of life earlier than it can be safely determined by data, science, and government mandate. However, every individual bears the responsibility to ensure it does happen, sooner rather than later in this present situation that The Economist termed as coronormal. 
The United Kingdom, where I currently live, is cautiously coming out of the national lockdown in four stages. By March 8th, all schools and colleges will reopen in the first stage, beginning a month by month easing up with restrictions projected to end in June.


In the Philippines and elsewhere in the world, getting vaccinated is only one part of a multi-defense system of each person and every society. The COVID cases found in Brazil and South Africa raises the possibility that the two vaccine jabs will need a booster to combat mutations. Wearing face coverings and face shields, social distancing, and frequent hand washing are tried and tested guidelines that need to be conscientiously followed even without reminders. Avoiding crowded spaces and gatherings is always prudent behavior. Monitoring symptoms, seeking treatment, self-isolating or quarantining show consideration not just for oneself but also for others.


Self-discipline and the sense of responsibility in every person will go a long way in the coveted goal of reaching that path to normalcy.ee

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Waray as a social identity

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on March 8, 2021

My travels around the world make me appreciate my mother tongue more than ever. It is fascinating to learn and practice different languages in the places we’ve lived in. I learned enough Japanese and French to get around in Japan and Belgium, and learned some basic words during the two years we spent in Korea. I enjoy listening to locals speak their language when we travel, but I feel a special kind of excitement when I hear kababayans abroad speak Tagalog or Cebuano.

My ears perk up and my heart blooms when I hear Waray being spoken. I immediately feel a sense of belonging because of how Warays immediately treat each other as long-lost family members, and the innate trust that we will look out for one another wherever we may be. Michael Byram’s research on language and identities for the Council of Europe confirmed that language creates a sense of belonging, a national identity. Tagalog is the national identity of every Filipino.

Children learn to read, write, and speak Tagalog in Filipino classes at school. People default to speaking Tagalog when they meet other Filipinos from other regions. Byram also wrote about the social identity that represents the language learned naturally at home. Waray is the fifth most-spoken language in the Philippines, a language acquired through the family and mastered through sheer exposure from childbirth. There are about three million speakers in Leyte and Samar, and many more in large communities in Manila, Cebu, and around the world.

Because we learn Waray from the moment we can talk, schools put more focus in teaching English and Filipino, paving the way for Warays to be natural polyglots. Students learn and speak three languages at once, the young minds already wired to pick up other popular languages like Cebuano and Ilonggo easily.

These days, Waray is more of an oral language than a written one. We hear Waray on radio stations but we do not read it on a regular basis. Even our regional newspapers, and this article for that matter, is written in English. What can we do to preserve and grow the Waray language? The problem stems from the lack of venue to publish in the target language.

The early 1900s to the 1950s represented a golden era of Waray literature. An Lantawan, Sanghiran san Binisaya, and Eco de Samar y Leyte were publications that propelled the rise of Waray prose and poetry.

Local newspapers can start dedicating some space for the native tongue, and local governments can provide more support through literary competitions or public libraries dedicated to the language or Waray authors. We also need to campaign for Waray to be created as a separate regional languages division in the prestigious Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

Awards like this will encourage poets and writers to create quality work. It is because of traveling and seeing the power of language and the sense of belonging it brings to a person that I decided to write bilingual stories like the Maya series. Waray is such a beautiful language, a social identity that singularly represents who we are and the gateway to our culture, arts, and traditions. Through the Maya series, I declare: Waray ako.

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The need to read

Published on March 8, 2021

I love to read, a personal interest nurtured by my parents who always brought me books as pasalubong from their business trips to Manila or Cebu. I started writing for The Maya Series as a passion project to promote our Waray arts, culture, and traditions, and contribute to Waray literature. More importantly, I wanted to share my love of reading and encourage reading not just as a school requirement but as a hobby for students.

With so many distractions vying for the attention of young people’s free time today, reading for pleasure cannot be overstated. We know that good readers make for smart students. Evidence also show that reading has a profound impact on a person’s life long after leaving the classroom. Research commissioned by The Reading Agency in the UK found that reading for pleasure not only improves relationships with others, it provides many health benefits including reduced symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved well-being.

The need to read should be one of the national priorities. Our children are simply not reading enough. Philippines ranked the lowest in reading out of 79 countries in 2018, the most recent year the triennial Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) was administered. 15-year old Filipino students scored 340 points compared to the average of 487 points attained by member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Broken down by gender, our boys scored an average of 325 points compared to our girls with 352 points. So how do we tackle this national problem and where do we start? We can adopt a two-prong school and home approach.

We need to look at our daily class schedule and find out how much time we spend on reading. Let’s provide more support in grades K-2 where students are learning to read. At around grade 3, students start reading to learn; let’s provide more reading materials and resources. Much like training for a sport, reading stamina can be developed through practice and technique.

It is important to put books of various genres in the hands of our students; they do not even have to be physical books. There are many websites offering free access to thousands of e-books such as the International Children’s Digital Library and Project Gutenberg. At home, let us make the time to read to our children, read with our children, or let the children read on their own.

According to Nagy and Herman, a student who reads at least 20 minutes every night will have read a staggering 1.8 million words in a school year! Compare that to a student who spends only five minutes a day reading resulting in just 282,000 words in a school year, or another student who reads just one minute a day will only read 8,000 words. You can expect that a student with an extensive vocabulary will not only be successful at school, but also in life.

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Miguel Diaz of Tacloban: Theater success in the UK

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on March 9, 2021

The people of Leyte and Samar are known for their natural talent and love for the arts. One Waray who parlayed his talent in singing, dancing, and acting to a successful theater career on the prestigious West End in the United Kingdom is Miguel “Egie” Diaz of Tacloban City. Egie candidly admitted never in his wildest dreams did he think he would perform for British royalty and American movie stars.

He was a struggling student with undiagnosed dyslexia at the then Divine Word University (DWU) of Tacloban.

His teachers were worried that he would not pass the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE). Every graduating student back then had to take the NCEE to be eligible for college. Yet, he defied the odds.

He did not only get a passing score but he also get accepted by the university as a working student. Egie performed with the Katulinan Dance Troupe as a DWU scholar. After graduation, he joined the staff of the then Leyte State College as a teacher and as head of drama and stage management of the Human Resources and Development Center (HRDC).

He teamed with choreographer and teacher Jess de Paz and together, they produced many local shows. His path to international fame and fortune began with that serendipitous moment in April 1989 when he saw an ad in the newspaper announcing an audition for male singers for a brand-new show premiering in London. He flew to Manila and was among the 8,000 Filipino hopefuls who auditioned for legendary producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh and his team.

He impressed Sir Mackintosh with his rendition of the classic song Impossible Dream and was one of only eight male performers chosen for the London show. Still giddy with his successful audition, what happened next was a whirlwind of preparations. By July, he was already in London as part of the original cast with Lea Salonga rehearsing at Theater Royal Drury Lane for Miss Saigon. Egie spent the next 10 years rising from the chorus to principal roles and lead parts.

The cast maintained a grueling schedule of eight shows a week with matinee shows on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He performed for various headliners, most notably the late Princess Diana who was the patroness for a charity gala. Tom Cruise congratulated him when he and Nicole Kidman talked to the performers after a show. After his stint with Miss Saigon, he performed in the King and I at the London Palladium. The theater experience led him to discover more about himself.

He was finally diagnosed as 40% dyslexic which explained his struggles at school and which he compensated for by being an aural learner. Aural learning is understanding through hearing and speaking. He also discovered a business flair for flipping houses. He bought a flat in London for £40,000 and later sold it for three times the amount.

He bought a house for £125,000 and sold it for £1.3M. He then bought a hotel in Bristol and now runs The Elms Guest House. Blissfully retired now in the UK and enjoying the well-earned fruits of his labor, he nevertheless still enjoys singing before an audience. Egie developed his alter ego Lady Imelda as a live cabaret drag act to continue to connect with people.

He does his own hair and makeup, designs and sews the glamorous ball gowns he wears on the show and talks to people for an interactive and engaging performance. In the time of the global pandemic, he is sharing his cabaret act live on his Facebook page every Saturday and Sunday night at 8:00 PM, UK time. The weekend performances showcase his impressive vocal range and stage presence, a continuous source of pride for Warays all over the world.

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Learning loss and the social-emotional impact of COVID-19

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on March 9, 2021

It will be a year now since COVID-19 upended life as we know it and drove the global economy almost to a standstill. 166 countries implemented blanket school closures and pivoted to remote learning using various modalities in order to stem infections and protect the vulnerable in society. This required parents and adult caregivers to take active roles at home to guide their children as tutors and teachers in the new normal. By November 2020 however, only 23 countries continue to have blanket school closures in place according to research undertaken by the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In the emerging markets of Asia, only Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Kyrgyz Republic still have schools in all levels closed.

There is no dispute that remote learning pales in comparison to face-to-face learning. What is the educational loss due to school closures? The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released a report last October on COVID slide, the erosion of learning due to the global pandemic. CREDO discovered that the educational loss could be measured by lost days of learning. Students in 19 US states lost between 57-183 days of learning in Reading and 136-232 days of learning in Math, the equivalent of more than one school year. It also found that disadvantaged students lost more compared to students from advantaged families. ADB estimated that students lose two academic years of learning for every year of no education.

Idoiaga, Berasategi, Eiguren and Picaza published their research findings last August on the social and emotional implications of the global pandemic on Spanish children. They found that students experienced conflicting feelings of happiness of being able to spend more time with family and siblings and isolation, fear, and anger at not being able to spend time with friends outside. Studies in China and the US showed that children expressed higher levels of anxiety and depression.

What can we do to support our children doing online learning and living through this extraordinary time? Inside SEL Brief author Woolf recommended educator actions that parents can use at home. One is to provide a consistent schedule for children to establish a sense of normalcy and well-being. Students are used to a regular schedule at school; they need to be productive and busy with activities at home. He also recommended for parents and adult caregivers to regularly check in with students to address their needs in real time. Children go through a cycle of emotions very quickly. It is important for them to know that they can talk about what they feel and get help. In some European countries, two or more families can create their own bubbles so that children can play and talk to each other in person. They need the social interaction to learn the social skills developed early in child development.

When all is said and done, we can take comfort in children’s natural resilience. With the rollout of vaccines and the continued practice of physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and the use of face coverings, this pandemic shall pass. The active support of parents at home will help our students adjust to being back in a brick and mortar learning environment easier and faster.

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Challenged books in libraries

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on April 7, 2021

Dr. Seuss’ books are highlighted for Read Across America Day on March 2nd, which also coincides with the author’s birthday. His beloved books such as Cat in the Hat, Oh! The Places You’ll Go!, and Fox in Socks are read in millions of classrooms and bedrooms all over the world. This year, the late author made international headlines when Dr. Seuss Enterprises took proactive action and announced that they were discontinuing six of the titles for racist and insensitive imagery. The six titles are And To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.

I do not remember reading these titles when I was a young student, so I decided to check out these books from our school library to read them myself. The illustrations in question, instantly recognizable in Dr. Seuss’ unique style, were reflections of the era they were written in. What was acceptable then has changed now. In today’s diverse reading landscape when the need to be sensitive to hot button issues is paramount, these images can be easily interpreted as disrespectful and, indeed, racist.

The announcement caused an immediate revival of interest in his books. The day after the announcement, USA Today reported that six of his titles took the Top 10 spots of the USA Today’s Bestseller List. While none of the current bestsellers are those that are planned to be discontinued, they emphasize the fact that the quickest way to whet students’ or public’s reading appetite is to place a title or an author on a censored or challenged book list. It is the allure of the forbidden. According to the American Library Association, eight of the 2019 Top 10 Most Challenged Books were questioned for LGBTQIA+ content. The two other challenged titles that round up the top 10 are The Handmaid’s Tale and the Harry Potter series, books that are considered pop culture phenomena and global multimedia blockbusters.

A third of the challenges to books were made by parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that exposure to violence not only in books but in other forms of media contributes to aggression in children. Given this backdrop, what can parents do to ensure their children continue to read? How can we help nurture and develop habits of reading for learning, pleasure, and leisure? This task requires a fine balance. When Filipino students are at the bottom of PISA reading assessments, the need to read is more critical than ever. On one hand, parents will need to read with their children or monitor what they read. Engage them in thoughtful conversations on sensitive topics so that they can help shape their children’s mindset. Libraries will have books that may be considered offensive, but this does not mean that young children need to read them. This is where parental control comes in. Schools have approved lists of books for study to enable students to see multiple viewpoints and become critical thinkers. On the other hand, we need to let students read on topics of personal interest. Let them explore various genres of literature. It is one of the effective ways to develop a lifelong love of reading. Books engage students to safely discover different ways of thinking, travel to distant lands, help them learn from the past, and encourage them to create new ideas.

Lessons of history show that trends and preferences ebb and flow with the times. Will challenged books be once again acceptable? We will have to wait and see.

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