That's Not Fair! Why Must I Cut My Hair? by Paul M. Bowen

If you were to do a Google search for 'when natural hair violates dress code,' you would see article after article after article about Black students who either had to cut/style their hair to meet certain dress codes at school or face suspension.  Children as young as eight years old have been discriminated against because of how they wore their hair.  How is this fair?  It's not.  That's Not Fair! Why Must I Cut My Hair? by Paul M. Bowen is a lighthearted book that shines a light on this serious subject.  Its main character Marcus experiences discrimination from his teacher.  Keep reading to learn more about That's Not Fair! Why Must I Cut My Hair? and to find out if Marcus finds the inner strength to stand up for himself and what he believes in.

Language arts lesson for That's Not Fair! Why Must I Cut My Hair? by Paul M. Bowen. Should students be allowed to wear natural hair in school? Reader response activity.

Disclosure: Affiliate links to Amazon are included in this post.

Author's Summary

Imagine being denied an education because of one of your features. Marcus started his school day with this problem. Find out if he stays quiet or stands up for his beliefs.

🍎 Title: That's Not Fair! Why Must I Cut My Hair?
🍎 Author: Paul M. Bown
🍎 Illustrator: Paul M. Bowen
🍎 Date: October 4, 2020
🍎 Publisher: self-published
🍎 Pages: 24

Setting the Stage

That's Not Fair! might be a short little book, but don't let its size fool you.  Teachers can use That's Not Fair to teach a variety of skills such as persuasive writing, fact vs. opinion, and making text-to-self connections.  Before reading this book, take a few minutes to discuss the following questions with your students:

🍎 Do we have school rules?
🍎 Why do we have school rules?
🍎 What happens if we don't have school rules?
🍎 What happens if we break the school rules?
🍎 Do you think there is ever a time when it's OK to break the school rules?
🍎 Can you think of an example of when it'd be OK to break school rules?

These are not easy questions to ask and not easy questions to answer.  Before having this discussion with your class, you need to consider your students' maturity levels and if you think your students can handle it.  If not, you may need to save That's Not Fair! for another day. 

Story Elements

As you and your students read That's Not Fair!, you will be able to see that the story elements are well-defined and obvious.  Review them with your class.

🍎 characters: Marcus, Mrs. McKay, the principal
🍎 setting: at school, during the day
🍎 problem: The teacher was upset because Marcus's hairstyle violated the school's dress code, so she sent Marcus to the principal's office.
🍎 solution: The principal listened to what Marcus had to say. He said that Marcus's education was most important, sent Marcus back to his class, and fired the teacher.

Note: Some children will disagree and say that the problem of the story occurs when Marcus stands up for himself and argues with the teacher.  Be prepared for that conversation and handle it as needed.

Reflective Writing

Like I said earlier in this post, That's Not Fair! is a light-hearted book that shines a light on a serious issue happening in our schools today... that issue being discrimination.  Discrimination is defined as the 'unfair treatment of one particular person or group of people. Usually, the different treatment is because of the person's sex, religion, nationality, ethnicity (culture), race, or other personal traits.'  When we keep this definition in mind, Black children are indeed being discriminated against because of how they wear their natural hair.

Children have a strong sense of justice and a strong sense of right and wrong.  It would be difficult for them to read That's Not Fair! without feeling some sort of emotion.  They often see life through the lens of someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong.  Some children will read That's Not Fair! and think 'rules are rules' and that Marcus should change his hair.  Other children will see Marcus's point of view and agree with the principal's actions.

Kelly's Classroom Online

Many teachers have their students keep reader response journals in their desks.  Use That's Not Fair! as an opportunity for self-reflection.  Possible writing prompts include:
  • How do you feel after reading this That's Not Fair?  Explain why you feel that way.
  • Have you ever been in a situation like Marcus's?  What did you do?
  • How would you describe Marcus?  Give examples.
  • How would you describe Mrs. McKay or the principal?  Give examples.
  • Why do you think the author Paul Bowen wrote this story?
  • Do you have any unanswered questions about That's Not Fair!?
  • Copy a page from the story.  Why is it interesting to you?  Explain why you think so.
  • If you could add some more pages to the end of the book, what would you write about?
Afterward, ask for volunteers who'd like to read what they wrote.  Remember children will write their inner-most thoughts and feelings and their journals and may not want to share them with the class.  Respect their privacy and don't force them to share if they don't want to.

Before you go, take a few minutes to watch this read aloud of That's Not Fair! Why Must I Cut My Hair?  YouTube video by Sankofa Read Alouds.

Kelly's Classroom Online
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  1. Love this article you touch on a lot of key points.It may be short but it does give a full story. Sometimes teachers and adults need to listen what children have to say and not be so dismissive.

    1. Thanks Paul! You are absolutely right about that... children's thoughts and feelings need to be valued and respected. They matter. We need to listen to what our students and children have to say. Love your book! <3