A federal district court ruling earlier this month which held that there is no clearly established constitutional right to literacy in the United States has reminded me that the various pieces of my background are sometimes in conflict with one another.
Recently, Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB) released its reading list for the 2018-2019 school year. On this list is the award winning middle grade novel George by Alex Gino. The story centers around a young transgender child, George, who was born a boy but knows she is a girl. The book tackles the difficult, and too often undiscussed, situations and emotions a young transgender child might experience. Many parents in Oregon have taken issue with this selection, saying that the book is not appropriate for the grade level for which it was chosen.
No policy can be written to prevent all challenges and all selection mistakes. But we can improve how we talk to each other and how we talk about our policies. Included here are three steps school librarians can take to lay the groundwork for improved conversations between parents, teachers, and administrators.
While parents absolutely can, and should, be aware of what their children read and are exposed to and be actively engaged in helping students process what they are reading, I also believe books are a safe way for children to learn and expand their perspectives and horizons and challenge their own preexisting world views. Parents can play a critical role in helping them do so.
Setting aside the fact that it’s just rude, rescinding an author’s invitation to speak because the content of their book is controversial is, in fact, censorship. The physical book may not be off the shelf, but the author’s message is still being stifled. One person is making a choice for the entire school community, that what this author has to say is not of value.
When the superintendent of the Dixie County School District sought to censor the reading lists of students, Library Media Specialist Lindsey Whittington stood up for intellectual freedom and fought the ban.
Part of the Librarians Lead Against Censorship blog series. The Sauk Prairie High School Librarian, Lynn Evarts, remained very close to the situation throughout its unfolding and provided key leadership to the community on the matter. For her efforts, Evarts, plus her colleagues, earned the 2017 Lee Burress Intellectual Freedom Award from the Wisconsin Council of English Teachers.
Part of the Librarians Lead Against Censorship blog series. In 2017 Academy School District 20’s Challenger Middle School Library faced a challenge to the book Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. A parent challenged the book, objecting to language, alcohol use, violence and sexual descriptions. I had a chance to talk to Gina T. Schaarschmidt, the Challenger Middle School librarian, about the challenge and her experience working with the Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Librarians are crucial to ensuring intellectual freedom because we build relationships with learners and we help foster curiosity and creativity through daily interaction. We get to know people. We talk with them and we become trusted colleagues, mentors, and educators, yet this element of our profession often gets left out in our marketing and advertising.
Recent book challenges in the news have involved permission slips sent home by classroom teachers when students would be reading a potentially controversial book, and I’d like to take some time to review the bigger picture surrounding classroom text selection, parent communication, and the sticky question of “permission.”