Author Archives: stephaniecreamer

Let’s Get a Conversation Started

Discussion Questions (Censorship and the Law section)

1. Throughout the semester, we’ve made a distinction between legal and ethical justifications.  However, after reading the section on Censorship in schools: A legal perspective, can you see some of the ethical theories we’ve studied underpinning the legal rulings?

Discussion Question: (Ethical Responses)

2. Do you agree/disagree with any of these stances on the ethics of censoring material in children’s and young adult libraries? Have any of them changed your opinion about  censorship?  Why or why not?

Discussion Question: ( Examples of Censorship)

3. Some school libraries house both middle school and high school on the same campus, so the collections are all in one location.  Is moving a book from a one shelf to another shelf a form of censorship? Meaning moving the work from the middle school section to the high school section?

4. Given the same scenario as above, Is a school library policy that states students who are at a fifth grade level or below may not check out high school materials a form of censorship?  Or is this just good sense? Explain your answer.

Discussion Question: (History of Censorship)

Imagine that you are a children’s librarian in the 1960’s, confronted with a situation where you perceive that you have the conflicting duties of selecting appropriate and quality material for children, and not acting as a censor. How would you resolve this conflict? Are there any ethical theories that could help you decide on a course of action?

You Have The Right To Read!

You Have The Right To Read!

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Non-Consequentialist and Consequentialist Theory

Non-Consequentialist Theory

Kant’s Categorical Imperative

Kant gives several versions of his categorical imperative.  One is that we should treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end.  By this account, censorship of school literature could be justified or not depending on the intent of the censor.  If the censor is truly trying to protect minors from harmful content, then the removal of certain books from library collections may be justified.  If, however, the censor is removing books because of ideological differences and to stop the spread of ideas divergent from his or her own, then that person’s actions are unethical.

Another version of Kant’s categorical imperative states that we must act from moral rules that we can will to be universal law.  This is a more difficult approach to the categorical imperative.  We cannot say, in a school library, school officials have the right to withhold all information.  Nothing would get taught; students wouldn’t have access to any information because if it were a universal law it would be self-defeating.  We could say, school officials have the right to withhold harmful information.  However, as Diana Woodward questions, how would we determine what is harmful without entering consequentialist territory?  Or, we could also say, withhold no information.  The last two seem like the only viable options as they are not self-defeating.

Woodward, D. (1990). A framework for deciding issues in ethics. Library Trends, 39(1/2), 8-17.

Rawls

In looking at the different opinions of ethical theorists, John Rawls, a right-based theorist, brings a unique view to the ethics of censoring material in children’s libraries. Rawls believes that because one has agreed to be part of a society, one often makes social contracts. These social contracts are agreements made between others within a society that are necessary for a society to work. However, these agreements are not always fair and equal because people tend to put their best interests first. (Fallis, 2014). Rawls suggests that the only way to make a fair and equal decision is to look at a situation from behind the “veil of ignorance” (Fallis, 2014). Rawls also believes that the least advantaged members of society should be benefited. Behind this veil the individual views the situation without any knowledge of their position in society, giving them an unbiased view. In doing so, the individual behind the veil with not want to shortchange any group of a society, because they may be a part of that group (Fallis, 2014).

If we apply Rawls’ theory to the ethics of censorship in children’s libraries, we can view the situation behind the “veil of ignorance”. We can see that there are three groups in this situation: One group of adults who feel that children’s literature containing controversial topics should be censored from children’s libraries, one group (most likely the library, the American Library Association, and other adults) who feel that it is unethical to censor material in children’s libraries, because it takes away their right to freedom of speech and intellectual freedom, and the last group is the children themselves. If one were to look from behind the veil they would not know which group they belonged to. I believe that the best stance to take in this situation would be to oppose censorship of material in children’s libraries. If I were behind the veil, I could possibly be a child, and I would not want to limit my access to materials that I may need. Also, a child may be the least advantaged group of society in this scenario, because they do not often have a voice of their own to defend their rights for access of library materials. It is adults who make these decisions.

Fallis, Don. (2014). Rights. Retrieved April 18, 2014, fromhttps://d2l.arizona.edu/d2l/le/content/328246/viewContent/2665141/View

 

WWRD = What Would Ross Do?

Deontological perspectives on the topic of censoring children’s and young adult literature require a quick recall of Kant’s attempts to universalize a moral perspective. Kant believes that “duty embodies the idea that one should do the right thing in the spirit in the right spirit” (Spinello 24), and Ross adheres to a philosophy that “through reflection on our ordinary moral beliefs we can intuit the rules of morality” (Spinello 26). Both present lofty goals for librarians and how we should behave in the face of censorship for young adult literature?

If I am on the receiving end of a complaint about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, my reflection on the challenged novel leads me to intuitively side with a child’s right to read, a healthy respect for free speech and access to that speech, an obligation to allows challenges to come forward which foster healthy and productive debate on the material, and ultimately (for me), the conviction that the students who come into my library should NOT have their access to a book in any way, shape, or form limited because some people don’t like the references to masturbation or “boners.” However, the problem for me with Ross’s reflection is that I examine these perspectives through a very hubristic lens.  I am flawed, and capable of making bad judgements.  I can also be intimidated by large masses of a population who may completely disagree with my “intuition.”  When only one parent challenges material, it’s all well and good to stand up for grand ideas.  When a majority of a parental community challenge a book such as Part-Time Indian, what then does my intuition tell me is the moral course of action?  Do I falter in my previously listed convictions in the face of a large population?  I’m only human after all, and subject to fear, intimidation, or simply flawed logic.  I may believe my logic is sound and rationale, but I could very well be completely wrong in my convictions and intuitions.

Ross’s “prima facie” duty allows for one moral conviction to be “superseded by a higher obligation” ( Spinello 27). As a librarian who works for a school do I first and most importantly consider free speech when our library has Seventeen magazine on our shelves and consider a student’s right to read and access to information?  That access to information is seminal to educational goals, after all. Or do I have a different prima facie duty: Do I consider the extremely unhealthy perpetuation of sexualizing children, questionable marketing campaigns that communicate a chronic message that only youthful, white, “sexy” females are valid on planet earth, and thereby first and most importantly consider the mental and emotional health of my students who don’t conform to the marketing standards within beauty magazines like Seventeen? Of both convictions, the right to read or the right to a healthy emotional environment, which conviction supersedes the other?  The duties that Ross lists include “one ought to avoid injury to others” (Spinello 27), and for sure with the advent of bulimia, anorexia, and other toxic maladies that media critics attribute to dangerous and misogynistic marketing are on a proportional rise with the type of marketing found in Seventeen, surely this is reason enough to believe that my prima facie duty lies in protecting the health of my students, and thereby to censor not only Seventeen magazine, but all magazines that employ destructive forms of marketing.

Spinello writes that “Ross does not maintain that [his] list [of moral duties] is exhaustive, but he does believe that these duties are self-evident and indisputable” (my emphasis 27). Well, the more I consider the issue of Seventeen magazine, the less “self-evident” the decision is for me.  Recall that earlier I wrote I’m flawed.  My logical and rational mind wants to leave these types of magazines open for healthy critical discourse.  In my dream scenario of addressing magazines such as Seventeen, Vogue, Cosmo and other fashion cash cows, a group of parents, students, and library faculty would convene with the intention of dissecting the publications, examining for “merits and suitability” and how to proceed with the portions of such periodicals that are questionable.  We would speak frankly with the sons and daughters who read these magazines and coach our students to read the advertising with a critical eye and not to be duped by marketing agendas. We would coach our students to critically examine the denotative and connotative messages embedded in the text of the articles, and to question the message, and to arrive at personal conclusions.  Maybe this scenario is not actually logical and rational.  Maybe this idealized scenario is more of an implausible fantasy, but at the end of this scenario, I don’t see myself pulling Seventeen magazine from any library shelf. Open discourse, as Mill suggests, requires access to Seventeen.

Consequentialist Theory

Bentham’s Maximum Happiness

“As to the evil which results from censorship, it is impossible to measure it, because it is impossible to tell where it ends.” Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)

Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham’s greatest good were those actions that promoted the greatest happiness.  Happiness, to him, was pleasure and the absence of pain.  His hedonic calculus was “a method of working out the sum total of pleasure and pain produced by an act, and thus the total value of its consequences” (http://www.utilitarianism.com/hedcalc.htm).  Bentham believed that if people were to develop their intellect through education, the more capable they would be in making rational decisions about what would be in their own best interests.  He felt, “individual rational decision-making would therefore, in aggregate, increasingly tend to promote the greater general happiness” (http://www.utilitarianism.com/bentham.htm).  Bentham would not approve of censorship in school libraries because it would limit a student’s ability to develop his or her intellect, which, in turn, would prevent that student from making decisions that were beneficial in the long-term.

Utilitarianism

One ethical theory that can be used to support a ban on censorship is called utilitarianism. This theory asks its audience to consider the collective happiness of all involved. If a certain action increases the overall happiness of society, then that action is considered justified within the framework of utilitarianism. To use this ethical theory to undermine censorship, it must be shown that censorship decreases overall happiness. Predictions must be made about how happiness will be affected by the actions in question. Doing so isn’t always easy, for the simple reason that the future has proved rather difficult to predict. One writer who has addressed this issue, and whose writings are still read and considered nearly 200 years later, is John Stuart Mill. There are three claims Mill makes as to why censorship should be avoided from a utilitarian perspective. The first reason Mill mentions is that if censorship is implemented, people won’t have access to all of the truth, which will make them unable to form true opinions. This will decrease their happiness, and the overall happiness of society. Censorship, Mill says, will end up censoring some true information. Censors are not infallible. It is inevitable that some truth would become unavailable. The second reason is that even false information can be a sort of handmaiden to the truth. This is because the truth, if left unopposed in the mind of an individual, can become what is known as a dead dogma. It would become stagnant and lose the power of persuasion it holds over a person’s actions. People can forget why they believe what they believe is true if they don’t actively participate in mental defenses of these truths against opposing ideas. Mill claims that if censorship were to somehow succeed in only censoring false information, this second objection would be enough to support banning censorship. The third and final reason Mill discusses is related to the first. It is conceivable, Mill says, that there are problems society faces today that could be solved by a tiny bit of truth tucked away amid a pile of falsehood. If censorship were to remove this pile, then society would suffer from the absence of this bit of truth, and might continue to suffer for quite a while.

The right to have a comfortable place to read.

The right to have a comfortable place to read.

Resisting Censorship in our Schools

A Professional and Ethical Responsibility

First Amendment rights naturally evoke thoughts of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.  However, the First Amendment also includes the right to receive information.  According to Chmara, “the courts have held conclusively that there is a First Amendment right to receive information.  The right to receive information is a corollary to the right to speak” (2006).  But how do we know what constitutes censorship when we remove a book from our shelves or develop our collections?  What do we understand to be our students’ right to access information?  What are our professional, ethical and legal obligations around information that may be culturally, politically or socially controversial?

School librarians and media specialists are provided some guidance on the issue of censorship via the ALA Code of Ethics, the ALA’s Freedom to Read Statement, as well as the Library Bill of Rights.  They all contain language that establishes our ethical responsibility resist censorship.  The Library Bill of Rights specifically tells us, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views” and “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”  But how do we best fulfill our professional obligations and respond to requests to remove controversial material from our shelves?  Certainly, it is not enough to point to the Library Bill of Rights when those who may censor our collections demand the removal of books from our shelves.

Information professionals should also understand the laws and legislation as these will help inform decision makers on what rights our students have when it comes to removing items from the shelves or in formulating collection development policies.  Lukenbill writes there is an “emerging and broadening concept of the school and its library as a limited public forum.  Defined by American courts, this means that a traditional space such [as] a library or school is recognized by the government as appropriate for discussion, debate, and exchange of ideas, and the government cannot discriminate against viewpoints on subjects appropriate to the forum” (2007).  The library is the appropriate forum for the exchange of ideas and students have a Constitutional right to information.  This confers a corresponding obligation on librarians to protect that right by providing access to a diverse collection of information.  In order to uphold our ethical obligations, librarians should be making informed decisions about students’ rights to information to better advocate for those rights, but also to educate students about their intellectual freedoms.  To that end, we must become comfortable couching our arguments in terms of legal rights and not simply professional responsibilities.

Students’ Rights

The below court cases signal significant developments in our legal understanding of the rights students have while on school grounds.  Chmara (2010) wrote, “Recognizing…that minors’ exercise of First Amendment rights must be applied ‘in light of the special characteristics of the school environment’ (Pico 1982, 868, quoting Tinker 1969, 506), the Court has acknowledged that the rights of minors are not equal to the rights of adults” (p. 18).  The Pico case established that a school board cannot remove books from the collection simply based on whether or not they find the content objectionable, but the case did affirm the board’s right to remove content on educational grounds.

Namely, there are two circumstances under which content can legitimately be removed.  Chmara outlined these as follows: “First, school boards may restrict materials if they are motivated to do so because the materials are ‘educationally unsuitable’ or ‘pervasively vulgar’” and “Second, school boards may restrict materials that are obscene, harmful to minors, or child pornography” (2010, p. 18).  Barring these circumstances, courts have demonstrated that students have significant rights to access information, especially in the context of their school library.

A Timeline of Legal Rulings

Pico, explained below, was a landmark Supreme Court case which asserted the First Amendment rights of students and limited the authority of the school board to remove content from the library.  Prior to Pico, “six cases were brought to lower federal court…to address virtually the same act of removing books from the school library.  The courts’ decisions were evenly split – three cases were decided in favor of the board of education…and three were decided in favor of a student’s right to receive the information contained in the books” (Pelman, 2011).  This timeline highlights two of those cases, the Pico case, plus two additional cases that have historical First Amendment implications.

Tinker v. the Des Moines (Iowa) School District (393 U.S. 503) (1969)

Facts: Students at a Des Moines public school planned to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to school.  Officials learned of the protest and decided to prohibit armbands in school.  The students were suspended, sued the school district, and won on the grounds that the rule violated their first amendment rights.

Relevance to libraries: This case deals with the first amendment right to freedom of expression and not freedom to receive information.  However, it is significant in that it establishes that children do not “shed their constitutional rights…at the schoolhouse gate.”  Minors may not have the same first amendment protections as adults, but they do not lose them simply by being on school grounds.

President Council, District 25 v. Community School Board No. 25 (457 F. 2d 289) (1972)

Facts: After receiving complaints from parents about vulgar language and sexually explicit content, the school board decided to remove Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas.  The removal was challenged by students, teachers and parents who felt students’ First Amendment rights had been violated.  The court ruled in favor of the school board exercising its authority to remove the book.

Relevance to libraries: This case upheld the notion of the “in loco parentis policy, which states that members of the school board and the school administration stand in place of parents while students are in school and consequently should be permitted to make decisions to oversee the growth of students’ intellectual and social values” (Pelman, 2011).

Minarcini v. Strongsville City School District (541 F.2d 577)(1976)

Facts: The school district ordered the removal of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut be removed from the school library.  Additionally, the school district removed Catch 22 and Vonnegut’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater as required reading from the curriculum.  Five high school students brought suit against the school board for First Amendment violations.  The court found the school board was acting within its authority to remove the books from the curriculum, but found they violated students’ First Amendment rights by removing content from the library.

Relevance to libraries: This case establishes the distinction between content used for curriculum and content within the library.  Legal rulings suggest that school boards have authority and leeway in determining their school’s curriculum.  However, “the Minarcini court stated that a library is a ‘storehouse of knowledge,’ and that when it is created by the state for the benefit of the public school students, such a privilege may not be restricted by the personal tastes of succeeding school boards” (Hutchins, 1982).

The Board of Education Island Trees, New York v. Pico (457 .U.S. 853) (1982)

Facts: A school board in a conservative New York school district decided to remove nine books from the high school library on the grounds that the content was vulgar and did not represent the values of the community.  The nine books were Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris; Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas; Best Short Stories of Negro Writers edited by Langston Hughes; Go Ask Alice of anonymous authorship; Laughing Boy by Oliver LaFarge; Black Boy by Richard Wright; A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich by Alice Childress; and Soul On Ice by Eldridge Cleaver.  The Court found in favor of the students.

Relevance to libraries: The issue in this case was whether or not school officials could remove books from a school library because they found them objectionable.  The courts found that “the right to receive ideas is a necessary predicate to the recipient’s meaningful exercise of his own rights of speech, press, and political freedom.”  Due to its status as a limited public forum Justice William Brennan reasoned, “The special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of the First Amendment rights of students.”  This is arguably the most important case establishing students’ right to receive information and establishes that “reasons for removal of books from libraries must be based on educational grounds that, if challenged, must stand up under court review” (Lukenbill, 2007).  Since the landmark case, other courts have recognized that “there should not exist a ‘chilling’ of student rights, which, acknowledged by the court in Pico, are liberty of conscience, freedom of expression, and the right to receive information and ideas” (Pelman, 2011).

To view the attorneys representing each side debate the issue in 1982 on the PBS show The Open Mind, please click: http://video.pbs.org/video/1512021288/

Case v. Unified School District No. 233, (908F. Supp. 864) (1995)

Facts: A school district in Kansas removed the book Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, a novel depicting the romance between two high school girls.  The school board claimed, under Pico, they had the right to remove the content because it was “educationally unsuitable.”  Despite their claims, their testimony demonstrated they disapproved of the content on personal, moral grounds.

Relevance to libraries: The courts looked to Pico and determined that the removal of the book was motivated not by educational suitability but by ideology.  Furthermore, the court found that the school board did not follow its own policies regarding the selection and removal of content.  In this and even more recent cases, Pico is the precedent for evaluating First Amendment violations in school libraries.

Conclusion

Awareness of judicial findings helps us understand the First Amendment rights of students, the authority of school boards and the role of the library as a forum for the exchange of ideas.  The cases above demonstrate that the school board may have more authority to remove content from a school’s curriculum and less leeway to interfere with the library’s collection or selection process.  Pico demonstrates that students have a constitutional right to receive information and that any decision to pull content deemed “educationally unsuitable,” “pervasively vulgar,” or be harmful to minors must stand up under the scrutiny of the courts.

Resources/References

Chmara. T. (2006). First amendment and libraries. Law for Librarians, Seminar April 4-6. Retrieved from http://www.mpla.us/documents/handouts/2007/First%20Amendment%20and%20Libraries.pdf

Chmara, T. (2010). Minors’ first amendment rights: CIPA & school libraries. Knowledge Quest, 39(1), 16-21.

Heffner, Richard. “Censorship and School Libraries.” The Open Mind. Rutgers University. PBS. Retrieved from http://video.pbs.org/video/1512021288/

Hutchins, P. (1982). The first amendment in the classroom: Library book removals and the right of access to information.  Boston College Law Review, 23(5), 1471-1527. Retrieved from http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1722&context=bclr

Lukenbill, W.B. (2007). Censorship: What do school library specialists really know? A consideration of students’ rights, the law and implications for a new education paradigm. School Library Media Research, 10. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/slmrb/slmrcontents/volume10/lukenbill_censorship

Pelman, A. and Lynch, B. (2011). The school library versus the school board: An exploration of the book banning trend of the 1980s. The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults. Retrieved from http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/2011/02/the-school-library-versus-the-school-board-an-exploration-of-the-book-banning-trend-of-the-1980s/

The Right to Read Free of Anxiety

Ethical Response

A mother storms into her daughter’s middle school library demanding that the book her daughter checked out the day before be removed from the school immediately! “How can you allow this book to be read by a 7th grader? My child is too young to be exposed to these awful topics and it’s your fault for giving it to her!” the enraged mother exclaims. The book in question is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and the mother is angry because the book contains the controversial topics of rape, depression, bullying, and mental illness. But what exactly is the right thing to do in this situation? Should the librarian ban the book from the school’s collection because of one mother’s concern? What about other children whose parents are ok with them reading the book? Or readers who may greatly benefit from the novel? Is it easier to just do what the mother says? When it comes to children’s and young adult literature in libraries, these types of situations are happening everyday. While there may be no clear right or wrong answer, we can explore the ethics of a librarian’s choices when dealing with the censorship of children’s and young adult libraries.

The ALA’s Stance:

The American Library Association defines censorship as “the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons—individuals, groups or government officials—find objectionable or dangerous” and occurs when, “expressive materials, like books, magazines, films and videos, or works of art, are removed or kept from public access” and “when materials are restricted to particular audiences, based on their age or other characteristics” (American Library Association, 2014). According to this definition, they do not believe that is it right to censor any material no matter the situation. The American Library Association believes that censorship is ethically wrong. In the example above, the ALA would tell the mother that they will not get rid of the book, and that it is her responsibility to monitor what her child reads, not the library’s. In fact, they offer a pretty harsh message to parents who feel that librarians should have anything to do with monitoring what a child is reading. The advice they give to parents on monitoring their child’s reading material is that, “Libraries can be extremely helpful, providing information about parenting, open communication between parents and children, how to communicate with caregivers and the parents of your children’s friends about your rules, and the opinions of various organizations representing a wide spectrum of points of view about materials for children” (American Library Association, 2014).

Their ethical stance on opposing all kinds of censorship regarding children’s and young adult libraries is based on their view of free speech as a welfare right: a right “that requires other people (or institutions) to take positive steps to satisfy those rights” (Fallis, 2014).  The ALA believes that the right that gives objectors of material the freedom to express their opinions about books they believe should be censored, is the same right that children’s libraries have to provide these books. They believe that the right to free speech is one that must be upheld on both sides or “neither will survive” (American Library Association, 2014).  The ALA states that censorship of children’s and young adult literature in libraries endangers “one of our most basic freedoms – the right to read” and it will take “constant support” to uphold the right of freedom of speech (Doyle, 2013).

The American Library Association not only believes that it is ethical to oppose censorship of children’s and young adult’ literature in libraries, they also celebrate it each year through an event called, “Banned Books Week”. This weeklong event is meant to raise awareness about the ethics of opposing censorship of material, “even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular” (Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, 2014).  They encourage libraries and other book organizations to educate others about protecting intellectual freedom and how to fight censorship in their local libraries. They even release a list each year of the top challenged books. Current examples from children and young adult libraries are: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (challenged at Grandview Heights, Ohio High School), Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare (challenged by parents at a middle school in South Carolina), and 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, by Southwest Community Resources (banned by the Tucson Unified School District) (Doyle, 2013).

The Opposing View:

While the ALA believes that it is ethically wrong to censor children’s and young adult literature in libraries because censorship endangers their right to free speech, there are those that disagree. Many feel that it is their ethical responsibility to protect children from controversial material, such as violence, racism, sexually explicit material, and foul language in libraries. This group believes that exposing these themes to children and young adults can be harmful to them, and therefore it is only right to protect them from these books by removing them from children’s and young adult libraries. Some in this group even go so far as to attack the American Library Association for its stance on the opposition of censorship, and do not believe that their actions are ethical at all. In fact, they believe that the ALA’s fight against censorship is actually preventing the true ethics of free speech and the ethics of protecting children. In a modern blog called, “Safe Libraries”, the anonymous author states, “Stifle free speech? The ALA does that. Let someone merely complain about a book, and that person is shouted down as a “censor.” People are allowed to object. Libraries have policies in place to handle such objections. All final decisions come from the library. The library is presumably acting appropriately. It is simply wrong to attack people for filing objections in the manner libraries provide for filing those objections” (SafeLibraries, 2009).

Another popular blog called “The Annoyed Librarian” states that the American Library Association is more self-serving than ethical. The author of this blog believes that the ALA are actually unethical, because they pride themselves as heroes against censorship when they only fight against challenged books in the United States. The author states that this is not a worthy cause, because books are not technically censored in the United States since they have not been officially banned by the government. The “Annoyed Librarian” states that children’s books that have been re-shelved in the adult section or removed from a children’s library is not censorship since they can still be found through other resources. The author believes that if the ALA wants to actually take a real ethical stance on censorship, they should bring their cause to other countries where books have actually been censored by the government, instead of pretending to be an ethical hero of re-shelved children’s books in the U.S. (Annoyed Librarian, 2009).

What Authors Think:

Many children’s authors have strong opinions about the ethics of censoring material in children’s and young adult libraries, and believe that children have the right to read about topics that some would consider controversial. They even believe that it is beneficial to them. These authors feel that it is unethical to censor children from these topics. This ethical stance is backed up by the belief that by reading about controversial issues, young readers are able to, in a way, experience them and their often negative consequences through a safe medium. Ann Curry, who conducted a study of 220 banned books, states that, “librarians who want to include those [controversial] stories believe that a book is a much safer place than “real life” in which to develop wisdom about unsettling and possibly dangerous activities. Children and young adults are often looking for images of themselves, images as they are at that moment, struggling with parent conflicts, problem acne, feelings of rejection, raging hormones, and images of what they might become. Literature affords the distance to examine one’s self or potential self in a way not otherwise possible. An unbiased portrayal of a love affair gone wrong or of the difficulties and joys of teenage pregnancy shows life as it really is and allows a teenager to think about the “what ifs” without really being in the situation” (Curry, 2001)”. Author Ellen Hopkins of the often challenged young adult novel Crank, reported that “When I hear about a challenge, it’s usually from a librarian who is fighting it. I send a file of reader letters thanking me for: 1. Letting them see the destructive path they were on, and encouraging them to change it. 2. Giving them insight into a loved-one’s addiction. 3. Making them want to help troubled kids. etc.” (Kendall, Hopkins, 2011). The authors in this group believe that it is ethically responsible for libraries to include children’s and young adult books that contain difficult issues in their collection. It is not only about freedom of speech for these authors, but they believe that is it necessary for the young reader’s well being, and is needed to promote the overall happiness of children and young adults. As for the earlier example of the mother angered by a book in her daughter’s middle school library, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor author of the censored book Shiloh would say that the mother does not have the ethical right to control what other children are allowed to access in their library. Shestates that, “It is important that parents understand that the have the right to approve or disapprove of what their own children are reading, but they have no right at all to censor what other children might find interesting” (cited in West, 1997, p. 20).

What Children Think:

In the majority of the research I did on the ethics of censoring literature in children’s and young adult libraries, only one article thought to ask a child about their ethical stance on censorship. Authors Natasha Isajlovic-Terry and Lynne McKechnie conducted a study with a small group of nine to twelve year olds and asked them how they felt about censorship in their libraries. When asked what she thought about adults censoring books in a child’s library, nine year old named Emily stated, “I don’t think they should stop you…I still think they should let it [the book] out because I think kids should be able to read whatever they want and believe in whatever they feel like believing in” (Isajlovic-Terry, McKechnie, 2012). The main consensus of the children was that other children should be allowed to read what they wanted, and while they understood that their parents could tell them what they were and were not allowed to read, they should not have a say in what other children did. The children also believed that other children had the right to have a different opinion about a book’s content. For example, one child might find a book too scary to read while another would not, but it should be up to the reader to decide what they liked. The authors stated that the children, “showed sensitivity to the idea that the perception of inappropriate content is subjective, understanding that what one person finds controversial or offensive can be enjoyed by many others” (Isajlovic-Terry, McKechnie, 2012).

I think that looking at the ethics of censorship in a children’s library through the eyes of a child is an important factor. Adults often base their ethical beliefs on their own feelings, and forget to consider the ones who are most affected in the censorship of children’s and young adult literature. Author Roald Dahl, another often censored children’s book author, has an interesting opinion on this when it comes to censorship in children’s libraries. He states that when deciding on the ethics of censorship, “they [adults] may be unsettled because they are not quite as aware as I am that children are different from adults. Children are much more vulgar than grown-ups. They have a coarser sense of humor. They are basically more cruel. So often, though, adults judge a children’s book by their own standards rather than by the child’s standards” (cited in West, 1997, p. 112). Dahl also states that, “Children know that violence in my stories is only make-believe. It’s much like the violence in the old fairy tales, especially the Grimm’s tales. These tales are pretty rough, but the violence is confined to a magical time and place. When violence is tied to fantasy and humor, children find it more amusing than threatening” (cited in West, 1997, p. 113). Perhaps in the debate on the ethics of censoring material in children’s and young adult libraries, the most ethical thing one can do is to listen to the children themselves. They seem to be capable of more thought on the subject than many give them credit for.

References:

American Library Association. (2014). Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A. Retrieved fromhttps://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=basics&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=60610

Annoyed Librarian. (2009, September 30). Celebrate Banned Books Week!. Retrieved from

http://lj.libraryjournal.com/blogs/annoyedlibrarian/2009/09/30/celebrate-banned-books-week

Curry, Ann. (2001). Where is Judy Blume? Controversial fiction for older children and young adults. Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 14(3), 28-37.

Doyle, Robert P. (2013). Books Challenged or Banned 2012-2013. Retreived April 10, 2014, fromhttp://www.ila.org/BannedBooks/BBW_2012-2013_Shortlist.pdf

Fallis, Don. (2014). “Rights”. D2L IRLS 520. Retrieved April 10, 2014, fromhttps://d2l.arizona.edu/d2l/le/content/328246/viewContent/2665141/View

Isajlovic-Terry, Natasha & McKechnie, Lynne. (2012). An Exploratory Study of Children’s Views of Censorship. Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For The Library Science To Children, 10(1), 38-42.

Kendall, Jennifer & Hopkins, Ellen. (2011). An Interview With Ellen Hopkins: Best-Selling Author Of The Crank Trilogy For Teens. Retrieved fromhttp://childrensbooks.about.com/od/authorsillustrato/a/Interview-With-YA-Author-Ellen-Hopkins.htm.

Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association. (2014). Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read. Retrieved April 10, 2014, fromhttp://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek

SafeLibraries. (2009, September 30). “Annoyed Librarian Rips ALA for Banned Books Week “Nonsense” and for an “Incoherent and Self-Serving” Definition of Censorship. Retrieved from http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2009/09/annoyed-librarian-rips-ala-for-banned.html

West, Mark. (1997). Trust Your Children (2nd Edition). New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Choice

Censorship Meets Child

Intro

Censorship is the fly-paper of the information field. Arguments and issues buzz around it, and get stuck upon it, producing an alarming melee of competing interests and confrontational interactions. Censorship can seem straightforward enough at first glance. It’s about intellectual freedom after all, isn’t it? But no, for intellectual freedom touches upon what it means to be human; what it means to be allowed to think and feel and read what you choose. Engage in a discussion about censorship, and you might inadvertently introduce a Pandora’s box of issues into the air. Suddenly we aren’t talking about intellectual freedom any more. We are talking about lies, and magic, and race, and guns, and family, and fantasy, and communists, and morality, and violence, and reality, and sex. It gets even more interesting when you discuss censorship as it applies to school and children’s library services. Now you are talking about black and white rabbits getting married, penguins adopting babies, tin men and cowardly lions, horcruxes and hobgoblins, and lots and lots of underwear. Many would look at this sticky mess with disgust, and want to ball up the whole wad and throw it in the rubbish bin. However, a look at the past of this issue is valuable for the modern professional in the library field. Understanding how and when the issue of censorship emerged as a hallmark of work with children, and why it seems to become more relevant at different moments, can prove helpful to librarians and others in the field. By looking beyond the quivering wings of dying objections to the contextual framework surrounding instances of censorship, professionals can gain a level of understanding that may assist them with practical decision making in the present.

Censorship meets Child

Censorship has always been an issue in the world of adults. John Milton of Paradise Lost fame was writing against it in a short pamphlet called the Areopagitica back in 1644 (Salajko, 2011). However, it has only been in the years since the 1960’s that this issue has become part of the more insular world of childhood. According to MacLeod (1983), there are several reasons for this, one of which is the insular world itself, another being the united interests of children’s service professionals at the beginning of the 20th century. MacLeod mentions the work of historian Aries, who places the emergence of the concept of childhood as a preparatory period of education and protection before adulthood, at the start of the 17th century. Previous to this, according to Aries, children were integrated into the world of adults by the age of seven, working alongside them and not sheltered from the potentially rough and sometimes bawdy conversation of the older people around them. It is also worth mentioning that this concept of childhood is still part of the world view of several non-western cultures around the world. One of the hallmarks of this change in the modern west was the belief that adults were the caretakers and shapers of the childhood years for their young charges. Adults were responsible for ensuring that children grew into responsible adults themselves. This was accomplished through control of the education and exposure to the ‘outside world’ the child received. What children read was a significant part of this.

Children’s literature as we see it today didn’t become a significant part of the publishing industry until near the start of the 20th century. The growth, development and marketing of books specifically for children was spurred on considerably by the work of four New England women: Caroline Hewins, Anne Carroll Moore, Alice Jordan, and Bertha Mahony. The first three women were librarians, the last the owner of a book store. All of them were passionate about introducing children to what they considered to be quality literature just for them, focusing on the artistry of the pictures and the writing, and the quality of the content. Lists they created of recommended children’s books were used by parents and educators to make decisions about what books to get for their children. One important feature of these lists is that they were selective, only including works that these professionals deemed worthy and fit for childish consumption. “Librarians of all types had always felt a need to be selective,” mentioned Bush (1996) in an article about the influence of these four women. In the library field, selective is sometimes a euphemism for what could be considered censorious. However, this doesn’t seem to have been a problem for most people. As MacLeod (1983) points out, this selection was done for the “good of the child, and the good of society, as adults see both.” MacLeod further states that, “The movement that created special collections of children’s books, housed in separate children’s rooms in public libraries and supervised by specially trained librarians, was very much part of the effort to meet the dangerous challenge of trash literature… The idea of selecting children’s books for their suitability as moral influences on children was built into library service to children from the beginning” (MacLeod 1983).

A Ban for all Seasons: Motivations for Censorship

Reasons why a book is found objectionable for children have remained fairly similar for the last 100 years, though what is objectionable has undergone some changes. According to the National Coalition Against Censorship website, complaints are routinely filed against books that contain sex, violence, profanity, or religious references. Though often, as is the case with Captain Underpants, the content is just deemed unworthy, or silly (however popular it may be).

An interesting case study in the contextual changes to what is found objectionable can be seen in the history of the censorship of one particular book. This book was published in 1900, just as children’s literature was coming into its own. It received criticism then, and still receives criticism today, though for different reasons, and perhaps less vehemently than before. This book was written by L. Frank Baum, and is entitled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Critics loved it when it first came out, but it had some powerful detractors. One of its most influential critics was Anne Carroll Moore, one of the four New England women mentioned above. She was head of the children’s department at a large Brooklynn library, but she would soon be head of the New York Public Library’s children’s department. In one of the lists she prepared on request as a recommendation guide for a library commission in 1902, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was conspicuously absent. It was, by this time, already a best-seller. She also said of one of Baum’s other works, that it “should be banished from the sight of impressionable young children” (Hearn). His was one of only two works she openly criticized in the list. This type of criticism was elicited by the imaginative non-realistic qualities of the work. It was excluded from many libraries across the nation, or underrepresented for how popular it was. This confused many, a few of whom spoke up in editorials. Criticisms of the ban on the wizard sort began to increase up until the tipping point of censorship discourse in the 60’s. Librarians of the old school were beginning to feel a bit of pressure over the choices they made for the children’s collections in the library. One Detroit librarian in 1957 wrote, “”More than thirty years ago the decision was made that with so many far better books available for children than was the case when the Wizard was first published, the library would simply let the old copies wear out and not replace them…. This is not banning; it is selection.” The official notation on the Wizard of Oz card record was that it didn’t fire the imagination, and so a re-order wasn’t necessary. Some people were beginning to see this as a form of censorship, but to the older librarians, it was still simply a matter of selection.

The public had begun to become aware of how close this selection resembled censorship during the McCarthy era, also known as the second red scare. The first red scare had begun around 1917, and the Wonderful Wizard of Oz did not come out unscathed. In 1938, one writer was told he could not check out the book, because it was banned. He would write, “Good heavens! The land of Oz is a fairyland run on Communistic lines, and is perhaps the only Communistic fairyland in all children’s literature” (Hearn). He was being ironic with this statement, but many missed that fact. During the height of the McCarthy era, many librarians would defend the place some children’s books had on their shelves, despite criticism from outside groups. One librarian confronted criticism from an unhappy man who wanted a picture book of a happy little Russian girl taken off the shelf, because there was no such thing, (as everyone ought to know) as a happy Russian girl. The communists had ruined that (Jenkins). Though this period saw many librarians and members of ALA standing against the removal of materials from their collection, the awareness of the public was being awakened to the influence interest groups had as voices for censorship. When the era of peace, love, and protests arrived, libraries and librarians had a harder time defending their positions in the name of their right and responsibility of selection. Objections came from all sides, some groups focusing on race (removing Huckleberry Finn), others on teen sexuality (Keeping Judy Blume, et. al. on the shelves) (MacLeod).

In all of the above emergences of calls for censorship from outside groups, there was some type of exterior social catalyst. Sometimes it was fear over communism, and other times the struggle for civil rights. More contemporary objections to works have emerged from tragedies such as school shootings, after which collections have been reevaluated in an attempt to purge them from violent references. Religious convictions have also been recent motivators, with objections being raised over books such as Harry Potter, where wizards and witches are portrayed in a favorable light, which those who believe otherwise find offensive. Baum’s book came under criticism again in the wake of this last mentioned attempt at censorship, because it too has witches. By being sensitive to the cultural and social catalysts to calls for censorship, library professionals can be prepared to confront this issue with strength and respectfulness. Understanding this, and the current western notions of childhood, will give them a significant advantage when they formulate their responses to calls for censorship.

References:

Bush, M. (1996, Spring). New England book women: their increasing influence. Library Trends, 44(4), 719+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy2.library.arizona.edu/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA18316254&v=2.1&u=uarizona_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=ee23814020440bafb2f574ffc0333850

Hearn, M. (2001). “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas City anymore—or Detroit—or Washington, DC!”. Horn Book Magazine77(1), 16-34. Retrieved from: http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy2.library.arizona.edu/ehost/detail?vid=7&sid=3e093495-4196-4a7f-b5f9-39dc5e2a2df9%40sessionmgr4002&hid=4213&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=eft&AN=502862241

Jenkins, C. (2001). International harmony: Threat or menace? US youth services librarians and cold war censorship, 1946-1955. Libraries and Culture, 36(1), 116-130. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.arizona.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/57491250?accountid=8360

MacLeod, A. S. (1983). Censorship and children’s literature. The Library Quarterly, 53(1), 26. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.arizona.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1290713005?accountid=8360

Salajko, V. (2011)  Stationers, Authors, and the Creation of Copyright: Copyright and the British Book Trade During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Retrieved from: http://arizona.openrepository.com/arizona/bitstream/10150/144952/1/azu_etd_mr_2011_0180_sip1_m.pdf

 

Students have the right to NOT have to defend their choices.

 

Examples of Censorship: Children’s & Young Adult Literature

Censorship of Children’s and Young Adult Literature

I would like to begin this section with some brief definitions that come from a few sources: the NCAC and Henry Reichman’s work Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools. Reichman formally defines censorship as “the removal, suppression, or restricted circulation of literary, artistic, or educational materials – of images, ideas, and information – on the grounds that these are morally or otherwise objectionable in light of standards applied by the censor” (Reichman 2). In layman’s words he follows up with “censorship is simply a matter of someone saying: ‘No, you cannot read that magazine or book or see that film or videotape – because I don’t like it’” (Reichman 3). The NCAC employs a set of expectations for libraries, both school and public, administrators and parental community to consider when a work or material becomes an issue: “Censorship demands require educators to balance First Amendment obligations and principles against other concerns – such as maintaining the integrity of the educational program, meeting state education requirements, respecting the judgments of professional staff, and addressing deeply held beliefs in students and members of the community.”

Throughout this section, I would like to attempt to balance and question selection processes in accordance with NCAC recommendations.  How as a public librarian does one maintain ethical practice in the face of emotionally charged challenges?  How as school librarians does one balance out educational goals vis-a-vis parental angst?  Answers to these questions will in some way make their way into the lecture.  And some questions will be left for the reader to wrestle with.

Examples of Politically Motivated Censorship of Young Adult Works

The Politics of War and Perspective: Vietnam War

Reichman lists several examples of censorship that come from a political perspective.  He documents such political censorship that stems from “objectionable brothel scenes” in a 1974 Vietnam War film, Hearts and Minds. A teacher refused to edit out the brothel scene and then the principal banned the resource (Reichman 46). Upon viewing the documentary, the film consists of a collection of clips and interviews from the politicians involved in the lead up into the Vietnam War.  The documentary also includes clips of actual war footage; people being shot and blown up, dead bodies on display, and Hollywood war musicals.

The brothel scene, however, is the bone of contention with this political resource that leads to the censoring of legitimate commentary on war. The brothel scene is, to me, highly disturbing content for any high school classroom. The graphic nature of the brothel scene coupled with the unapologetically profound lack of compassion for the sex workers from the soldiers and the camera crew filming the documentary, (my personal opinion), bring legitimate questions of classroom suitability, and thereby, the challenge to this documentary. After viewing the full documentary on Youtube, (the brothel scene appears at 45 mins and lasts 2-3 minutes of the two hours), many educators might not even lift an eyebrow over the documentary’s removal from the classroom and complete censorship.  Others may have justifiable opposition to this censorship decision.

The question of political censorship is still on the table, however. IMDB describes Hearts and Minds as “a documentary of the conflicting attitudes of the opponents of the Vietnam War.” The review goes on with such superlatives as “startling”, “courageous”, “powerfully affecting”, “explosive”, “persuasive” and “the winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1975.” Based on this lavish description, the documentary would seem to offer sound educational value to a classroom that the students in this instance did not get to hear, view or debate. Was the challenge and ultimate censorship motivated by the political perspectives offered in the documentary, and the brothel scene was manipulatively used to legitimize its removal? If so, then this censorship was politically motivated.  If this documentary was censored for its sexual content, then I disagree with Reichman in his statement that this censorship stems from political pressure.

A reader needs to keep in mind who purchased this material, (the library? the educator? the humanities department?) and again, what criteria are put forward to school staff and librarians regarding curriculum materials.  A school library that houses such a documentary surely has supplemented the humanities department with such a purchase.  The “conflicting attitudes” noted in the film are from the French perspective and the American perspective leading up to the war.  This film seems to get at the heart of educational pursuits, which include the discussion of historical perspectives. My question to my classmates is what step would you take if this documentary were requested for purchase in a public library or a school library? Is refusing to purchase this documentary for the school library to avoid parental “pressure” an act of censorship? Is it ok to keep this in the library for checking out, but the educator can’t show the work to the students in a classroom setting?

The Politics of Gun Control

An Illinois community debated the controversy of gun control.  The principal, after the debate, elected to remove Guns and Ammo from the school library (Reichman 45). This is a high school library, so one has to question whether a periodical that celebrates guns, Guns and Ammo, is even appropriate for a high school audience. However, if the school librarian looks to the online Guns and Ammo website page, the “About” page identifies Guns and Ammo as a sporting enthusiast magazine, replete with outdoor nature settings.  By the Guns and AmmoMedia Kit definitions, this magazine is about sports, which are not limited to hunting, but include fishing, bow and arrow skills, and general outdoor living. Based on the definition provided by the magazine, these topics are age appropriate for high school students.  The politically motivated removal, post-Columbine, can lead a school administrator to make a censorial choice for the right reason. In the balancing act between providing diversity of materials in the library and attempting to instill within students non-violent methods of resolving conflict, the magazine, Guns and Ammo, raises a political point of friction.

Should schools consider political climate in their purchases?  Should the recent history of school violence – consider Sandy Hook – impact school library selection? And who determines this selection criteria in the light of political events? Do shifting political climates mean shifting purchasing criteria? Do public libraries face the same challenges as school libraries?

Being Green is Political: Ecological & Environmental Clashes with the Logging Industry

In an Oregon community, two texts came under fire. Both The Lorax by Dr. Seuss and Eli’s Songsby Monte Killingsworth were respectively labeled as being “hostil[e] to the timber industry” and “logger-bashing” (Reichman 45). Eli’s Songs narrates the story of a twelve year old boy who falls in love with the magnificent trees of a nearby forest and tries to prevent their imminent destruction. These last two political examples of censorship were more “pressures” (Reichman 45) and NOT censorship.  Neither of the children and YA books were removed from the library, but the emphasis that Reichman makes here is that a political environment can motivate not only pressure to censor, but actual self-censorship in the selection process to avoid challenge from parental communities.

Eli’s Songs, albeit age appropriate for middle school aged children again continues to force the question about selection and criteria.  This young adult literature selection is identified by Kirkus Reviews as age appropriate for 11-14. More school librarians and middle school educators could easily defend this book in its curriculum.  According to Kirkus Reviews, “the author leans hard on Oregonians for their narrow-mindedness” (KR), but the responsibility of the school library and of the educator is to explore perspectives, so when pressure from the community mounts, what choice should the librarian make regarding selection and purchasing? Is moving a book from one section to another a concession or an act of censorship?  (On some campuses, the library houses middle and high school works in the same location).

The Politics of Language:

Reichman is not the only observer of censorship history to address a community’s desire to purge unsavory language from the eyes and ears of their children.  Reichman cautions the school library or school administration against embracing a selection policy whereby profanity is the measuring stick for appropriateness (47). Reichman studies at length how often libraries deal with challenges based on “dirty” words. He writes that “a frequent objection…against library books is that they use ‘inappropriate’ language or [use] even ‘obscene’ or ‘pornographic’” (46) language.

The book Snow Bound by Harry Mazer received a challenge whereby the “parents…asked that the book be ‘withdrawn from all students’ because of several profane oaths, two four-letter words for bodily wastes, and use of the terms ‘crazy bitch’ and ‘stupid female’ by a character” (Reichman 47). Amazon shares the publisher’s blurb for this young adult novel.  The fifteen year old protagonist, Tony Laporte, is portrayed as a “spoiled” kid who in a huff of anger over not getting his way, takes off with his parents’ car.  This synopsis clearly establishes a tone about character. The ideas for a library to consider would have to include whether the profanity is cheap titillation on the author’s part or whether the profanity is an accurate voice of a spoiled kid who throws tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. In this tension, language becomes political.

This consideration of voice of a character appears in another more recently challenged and censored book based on “dirty words”: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Just as Tony Laporte engages in unsavory language, so too does Arnold Spirit Jr. from Part-Time Indian. Reichman argues that a school library policy should not include sending notifications to a parental community about new purchases for the library and which books include profanity.  Reichman defends a policy that “states explicitly that materials containing profanity ‘shall be subjected to a test of merit and suitability’” (Reichman 47).  What this test includes, Reichman does not develop, but given that the direction of a fictional character’s development, and the tone or mood of a children’s novel or young adult novel all stem from the language, would tone or voice be a part of that merit and suitability test?

Click here to see Sherman Alexie’s response to censorship.

An obvious dodge is left out of this “dirty word” discussion.  A cultural context exists in America that includes racial epithets.  Some school communities will voice complaint with Huckleberry Finn based on the frequent use of the N-word and other communities will not voice any complaint about this same text at all.  The test of “merit and suitability” falls short here if there isn’t an elaboration on what is suitable in terms of language in respect to cultural context.  Surely a request to remove Part-Time Indian because of “dirty words” should not measure short in comparison to To Kill a Mockingbird with its multiple uses of racial epithets.  Cultural context needs examination, and a recognition that Harper Lee captured the voice of the Jim Crow South, just as Sherman Alexie captured the voice of a young teenaged boy grappling with poverty on a reservation.

Lastly, The Bridge to Terabithia received a challenge based on “dirty words” as well:  “one Lincoln Nebraska parent protest[ed] the use of the words ‘lord’, ‘damn’, ‘snotty’, and ‘shut up’” (Reichman 48).  The novel remained in the library.  The author of the 1977 novel, Katherine Paterson, responds to School Library Journal reviews in such a way that makes one question if the parents who complained about the text actually read the ideas presented in the novel as opposed to only reading the specific words, two very different purposes. Paterson writes: “The time a child needs a book about life’s dark passages is before he or she has had to experience them. We need practice with loss, rehearsal for grieving, just as we need preparation for decision making” (SLJ). These are large and complex ideas for young adults to tackle, and certainly the conversation of language can be part of that discourse, but which concepts most need addressing: appropriate language of the authors or the conflicts and ideas from which the protagonists must conquer or endure within the novel? Is this question part of a selection criteria?

Based on all the exemplars of what should or should not enter a library makes for a harrowing selection criteria, and yet in spite of my frustration with a vague definition for selection criteria, is it best that the test of suitability is general and unspecific?  If so, how is this best? Further to this, does a school librarian or school selection committee need to define what is profane?  Is ‘shut up’ profane, just as the N-word is profane? The challenge that the school librarian encounters in defining a selection criteria in the face of social issues, parental concerns and political climate is certainly daunting.  If selection criteria for school and public libraries should be different, how so?

The Politics of Sexuality: A Question of Morality and Reality

Young Adult Books and Children’s Books

No conversation about censorship is complete until Judy Blume’s novel, Forever, is addressed. In the case Reichman delineates regarding Blume’s novel, Forever, censorship did not occur in a Wisconsin community school.  Reichman documents the attempt to ban Forever from the school library noting “six people who…[spoke] for its removal” (Reichman 52) and “41…to defend its selection” (Reichman 52). Kirkus Reviews offers a mild rebuke about the sexuality, but frames Blume’s work as lacking depth, whereas School Library Journal frames the novel in more empowering tones, neglecting the very specific sexuality included in the novel. One SLJ reviewer writes: “[Cath and Michael’s ]relationship is unique: sincere, intense, and fun all at the same time.” Note that no reference to sexuality appears in the review. In spite of one of these reviews being less than favorable, neither really touches on the pronounced sexual development of the female protagonist. For these frank and bold sexual matters, Judy Blume has had several of her works challenged and banned: Forever, Blubber, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Deenie, Tiger Eyes, and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.  Blume penned all of these novels “between 1971 and 1980” (Miller 43) and all of these novels “reside on the American Library Association’s List of 100 Frequently Most Challenged Books” (Miller 45).

Pat Scales addresses an interesting criticism of how books of a “mature” nature end up in the hands of readers who are too young.  Scales identifies that one factor in this crisis between parents’ concern for what children read and what libraries can select stems from computer programs that “determine the readability level of children and of books” (Scales 534), but then those same programs do not account for the maturity of the student, (or lack thereof), selecting the material based on reading level.  Just because the third grade student can read at sixth grade level does not mean the student is mature enough to read the content of a sixth grade level text. This friction between capability and maturation is where Scales identifies one factor leading to challenge in the library.  The scenario Scales presents is of the third grade aged student going home with a book intended for a more mature reader, scandalizing the parents and prompting backlash.

An article from American Libraries documents the controversial trajectory of banning Blume’s novel, Forever. When challenges occur, schools have a reconsideration committee, and typically, at this point in the challenge process the committee has the final say, as per an established policy.  A Mediapolis School District in Iowa, however, clearly had an appeal go beyond the reconsideration committee to the school board whereby the reconsideration committee’s decision was overturned because Forever “does not promote abstinence and monogamous relationships [and] lacks any aesthetic, literary, or social value” (Board 390). The board removed the book from the library.

The NCAC’s rebuttal to this type of usurpation, however, is clear. Overturning the reconsideration committee’s decision and pulling Forever from the school library is censorship, but further to that, comes the dangerous establishment of nullifying the purpose of a selection committee and nullifying the purpose of a reconsideration committee, as well as nullifying any or all established policies regarding criteria for selection or reconsideration.  All a parent has to do is go to the board to undermine policy. The NCAC responds to this type of usurpation with the following: “Access to a wide range of views and the opportunity to discuss and dissent are all essential to education and serve the schools’ legitimate goals to prepare students with different needs and beliefs for adulthood and participation in the democratic process.”  Usurping the selection process and the reconsider committee both functions antithetically to school mission statements, particularly those mission statements that want students to grow into successful democratic citizens. How can schools expect students to develop into citizens who ask questions when the actions of debate and dissent are usurped and taken from them? Students will not develop what they don’t practice, and in this case, it’s a citizen with the ability to read, to inquire, and to debate. Should not student voices matter in what young adults and children want to read?

Young Adult Magazines:

Reichman moves his examination of censorship of young adult texts to periodicals suited to young adult readers in school libraries.  According to Reichman, a review committee decided the periodical materials (Seventeen, YM, and TeenMagazine) were age appropriate for Middle School, but the school superintendent overruled the policy decision. Again, a usurpation of selection and reconsideration occur. Given the enormous shift in advertising and the pronounced inclusion of sexualized images or sexual topics, what should a selection committee consider when purchasing periodicals for its library, particularly periodicals targeted to young adults?

The online website for Seventeen magazine promotes itself to a young adult audience from ages thirteen to college age students.  In fact, one page is dedicated to university stories, the stress inducing application process, and also features an article addressing the new California law allowing students under the age of eighteen to “erase” their online footprint. Hall’s Seventeen article connotes the type of magazine that targets thinking young academic ladies who are aware of how choices can come back to haunt them.  In other words, based on the article’s presence in the online edition of Seventeen, their target demographic is not only young girls interested in beauty tips and prom tips, but an audience of critical thinkers as well.

This rebuttal to sexual content concerns, however, may not persuade emotional families who simply want to protect their children from sexualized articles and advertisements that do appear in the print edition of Seventeen.  But the controversial problem that may arise from a banning of the physical magazine is what to do regarding students’ internet access to the same magazine. Does the school then impose stricter filters to censor access to Seventeen’s online edition in order to keep with the spirit of banning the print edition?

So what are the solutions to challenge, usurpation of reconsideration committees, and selection?  What selection and reconsideration practices occur in your libraries?

Steps for Success:

The NCAC website offers a censorship toolkit targeted to libraries in the k-12 educational domain. The toolkit covers some of the most frequent reasons a work is challenged and strategies to address the challenges.  A careful step-by-step challenge process for the challenger is documented, and the most salient point of the challenge procedure is that the “Complainants must have read/seen the entire work objected to” (NCAC). Reichman and other critics note how often challenges to books and other library materials come from a complainant who has not even read the work in its entirety.

I hope these discussion questions prompt careful consideration and that the recommendations for selection and reconsideration are fruitful in your own domains.

 

Works Cited

Bird, Elizabeth. “Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll #10: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.”       School Library Journal. 16 June, 2012. www.blogs.slj.com. 20 April, 2014.

Blume, Judy. “1996 Margaret A. Edwards Award Acceptance Speech.” Journal Of Youth Services In  Libraries 10.(1997): 148-156. Library Literature & Information ScienceFull Text (H.W. Wilson).      Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

“Board Pulls Blume’s Forever.” American Libraries 25.5 (1994): 390. Academic Search Complete.   Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

Chen, Diane. “Practically Paradise: Top Teen Titles.” School Library Journal. 20 June, 2010.  www.blogs.slj.com. 19 April, 2014.

Hall, Macy. “New Law Allows You to Delete Your Digital Disasters.” Seventeen. 2014.  www.seventeen.com. 20 April, 2014.

Miller, Joanna. “Judged Judy.” Bitch Magazine: Feminist Response To Pop Culture 46 (2010): 46-50. Academic Search Complete. web. 19 Apr. 2014.

“Book Censorship Toolkit.” NCAC. New York, NY. 2014.www.ncac.org. 20 April, 2014.  http://ncac.org/resource/censorship-tools-du-jour/.

“News for Hearts and Minds (1974).” IMDB. 2014. www.imdb.com. 20 April, 2014.

Reichman, Henry; American Library Association.  Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools.  Chicago, IL, USA: ALA Editions, 2001, p.2

“Review of Forever.” Kirkus Reviews. Oct. 15th, 2011. http://www.kirkusreviews.com. 20 April, 2014.

“Review of Eli’s Song.” Kirkus Reviews. 20 May, 2010. www.kirkusreviews.com. 20 April, 2014.

Scales, Pat. “What Makes A Good Banned Book?.” Horn Book Magazine 85.5 (2009): 533-536. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

Vang, Sao. Hearts and Minds (1974). Youtube. 22 August, 2012. www.youtube.com. 19 April, 2014.

 

Students will have the choice to read anything they want.

Students will have the choice to read anything they want.

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