This week in the library, we draw your attention to your right to read. The American Library Association selected this week to highlight the dangers of challenged and banned books over the years, as well as to showcase 2017’s most frequently challenged books. ISD is proud to boast that we have the books that appear on the ALA’s top ten list of most challenged books for 2017.
Censorship is a contentious topic. Schools have a diverse population of parents, students, and teachers. All of us come to ISD with our biases, and to that end, the questions about access to information are fraught with all of those competing biases.
What are the predominant reasons books are challenged by teachers, administrators, parents, and students? Obscene language, racial slurs, bullying, violence, age inappropriate content, (what is that?!), references to sexuality, homosexuality, suicide, and bad taste. When teasing out each one of these reasons, however, this is when the hard conversation begins. When a book has a “bad” word, how many times does a bad word have to appear in the text before it is challenged? If only one “bad” word appears, does that word make the book worthy of a challenge or banning? And who decides what is a “bad” word? And by what measure is a word defined as “bad”? You see where this line of questioning goes. The questions become impossible to answer when all six hundred students have their say on the definition, and the parents, and the teachers as well.
To that end, I put forward a solution that very likely will not sit well with adults. According to a Scholastic Survey, when students were asked answer who should censor or monitor their reading, they predominantly identified themselves. Students can decide if something is or is not appropriate for them. Yes, this statement may chafe. The natural inclination of the adults in the room is the “protect” students. Bravely, (or crazily), I leave this statement undefended. I challenge all of us to resist the urge to paternalistically help students know what is right or wrong for them in terms of their reading choices. This is a hard challenge. For me. For many of us at ISD.