By: Lisa Hoover
With Mother’s Day coming up May 13, and Father’s Day June 17, I find myself thinking about the role parents play in encouraging intellectual freedom and intellectual curiosity.
We know book challenges often start with parent complaints, such as those discussed on this blog here, here and here. In a further step, this spring, in the face of a challenge, the Cody School Board voted to have the library’s software notify parents of books checked out to their children, with an opt out option for parents who don’t want notifications. (Taylor, 2018)
However, parents can also play a critical role in helping their children become well-rounded, intellectually curious adults. The Guardian’s Ian Leslie quotes educational psychologist Daniel Willingham as saying:
“when it comes to learning, there’s a powerful ‘rich get richer’ effect: the curious kids get more return from the same effort than kids with a lower base of knowledge. That makes learning more satisfying for them, which in turn feeds their curiosity.” (Leslie, 2014)
The article goes on to argue that what parents do in a child’s early years “plays a pivotal role in determining whether they will become curious teenagers and curious adults” and “the best way for parents to encourage children’s curiosity is to stay curious themselves.” (Leslie, 2014).
I would add to this and argue that encouraging a child to read widely and to challenge themselves with their reading can also be critical to developing intellectual curiosity. This includes respecting a child’s intellectual freedom as much as possible.
Mariah Manley explains this well, saying “intellectual freedom is never meant to supplant or override a parent’s wishes, but rather as a tool for all parents and caregivers to help their children grow and succeed.” (Manley, 2017)
“By protecting a child’s right to read widely, you help create thoughtful readers and responsible future citizens who are ready to think critically.” (Manley, 2017)
Manley reminds us that parents always have the first say in how their child should learn, and that it is “completely appropriate for a parent or caregiver to work with schools and libraries to ensure this.” (Manley, 201&) However, as Manley also points out, challenges and bans to books can infringe the intellectual freedom rights of other children. Therefore, while a parent has the right to decide what their child should or should not read, when faced with a challenge, schools should be careful when considering whether to expand that choice to other students and their parents.
My fellow blogger, Rebecca Slocum, made a similar point in a recent post, saying:
“students are going to better learn about these social justice issues when given more information, not less. It is through opening the lines of communication and allowing them to ask questions and voice opinions that children are able to develop a broad and informed understanding of the world.” (Slocum, 2018)
Therefore, we as librarians should work with parents to understand the importance of intellectual curiosity in creating well-rounded, successful individuals, and work with them to restrict student reading choices as little as possible in support of age appropriate reading, and encourage students to challenge themselves in their reading choices where possible. Books can open a whole new world for young readers.
I believe the encouragement of my intellectual curiosity by my parents was critical to helping me become the adult that I am. My mother likes to proudly tell the story about my third grade classroom running out of books for me. I remember my father encouraging me to read The Lord of the Rings in fifth grade, which turned out to be a tough read at that age, but challenged me to expand my vocabulary and reading style. I clearly remember hiding out in the barn among the hay bales reading that book even 20 (or more) years later.
I remember when I couldn’t find anything to read among my own bookshelves in my early teenage years my mother lending me one of her books – Danielle Steel’s The Promise – and the mild shock I got when I read my first sex scene (did my mother know there was sex in here?!?!), which got me thinking about adult inter-personal relationships and realizing that my mother was someone I could talk to about these things. I also read frequently banned books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice & Men, Bridge to Terabithia, Goosebumps, Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, The Dead Zone by Stephen King, and books by Roald Dahl and Judy Blume. As far as I can recall, my parents never told me I couldn’t read something, although I do remember them monitoring what I watched on television.
Perhaps even more than that, I remember long talks about the law and politics and ethical issues on our front porch during upstate New York summers, listening to the bullfrogs and peepers, where my parents shared their perspectives but also encouraged me to challenge those perspectives and develop my own.
I went on to professions that very much require independent thought and critical thinking – I became a lawyer and a librarian. I firmly believe the solid foundation of intellectual freedom and intellectual curiosity created by my parents and my teachers at Parishville-Hopkinton Central School is a large part of why I am who I am today, for which I am grateful.
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.
Leslie, I. (2014) The importance of encouraging curiosity in children. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/07/importance-encouraging-curiosity-children May 2, 2018
Manley, M. (2017) Talking to Kids & Parents about Intellectual Freedom. ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee. Retrieved from http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2017/05/intellectual-freedoms-of-children/ May 2, 2018
Slocum, R. (2018) Author, Please Come! Nevermind. Please Don’t. Intellectual Freedom Blog. Retrieved from http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=14015 May 2, 2018.
Taylor, Z. (2018) Board removes ‘trashy book’ from CHS library. Cody Enterprise. Retrieved from http://www.codyenterprise.com/news/local/article_daf303ee-174d-11e8-9537-6f05e857aa23.html May 1, 2018
Lisa Hoover is a Public Services Librarian at Clarkson University and an Adjunct Professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about 1st Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017 teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York with their cats Hercules and Pandora and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex). Find her on Twitter @LisaHoover01.