Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who are we protecting?

Another cross-post from my class's discussion this week on Intellectual Freedom.  These kinds of discussions are the best part of library school as far as I'm concerned and at a time when I am a bit frustrated with the program and all to ready to graduate it's nice to focus on the parts I enjoy.  Who will listen to my indignant rants when I graduate?

 I've been working at a K-8 school library for a year now, so I chose to write about the issue of intellectual freedom in elementary schools.  During my year there I've already had experience with complaints about books in the library, but luckily my school is very supportive of its library and the parents at the school are fairly open-minded and so the situations were easily diffused.  The most complaints have come from new parents with their first child in kindergarten. It seems that parents relax a bit after that initial period.   

 The other main source of complaints has arrived from the various books we have explaining where babies come from and dealing with puberty.  These materials are age-appropriate but some parents just seem to want to avoid that issue altogether until their children are much older.  My feeling on this is that if a child is genuinely curious about issues of this matter then they won't just forget their interest.  Children are resourceful and will find a way to have their questions answered.  I'd much rather children turn to non-fiction library books for this information than have them turn to the internet or peers for information of a much more dubious nature.  

I can understand parents’ concern about having their child read about situations that are mature or not pc (there’s some interesting debate I’ve followed on the bowdlerizing of children’s classics such as Dr. Doolittle).  My initial, gut reaction is in fact much the same.  The difference is that then I relax and look at the issue from another perspective.  For example I remember I began reading adult fiction at a pretty young age and was exposed to various works that contained mature and otherwise ‘inappropriate’ situations and language.  But I was not traumatized by these books or swayed to a way of thinking or actions that the rest of my life as well as my conscience have shown to be reprehensible.  A child will not read one bad word and suddenly begin a downward spiral of debauchery.  I think parents need to have more faith in the job that they’re doing raising their children.  Children are resilient and will not break the moment they encounter something parents deem potentially harmful. 

As for The Higher Power of Lucky—I’d find the situation hilarious if it wasn’t so frightening. Reading those articles I felt embarrassed on behalf of the profession.  I had never even heard of scrotum being considered a ‘bad’ word before this incident occurred.  The fact that librarians are self-censoring to avoid potential complaints is just sad and more than a bit reprehensible.  The only way I can even wrap my head around it is by remembering that a lot of school ‘librarians’ do not actually have master’s degrees and so have not received the same training regarding professional values that I have.  I think that this points to the importance of having CDPs to avoid these kinds of self-censoring actions, especially for works of such proven merit as recipients of the Newbery. 

 I also object to the tone of the article “With One Word, Children’s Books Sets off Uprorar” which seems to promote censorship and needlessly demonize children’s authors.  “Authors of children’s books sometimes sneak in a single touchy word or paragraph, leaving librarians to choose whether to ban an entire book over one offending phrase.”  This sentence seems to imply some sort of malicious intent on the part of the authors.  It seems as if authors write otherwise good books but then add inappropriate content (presumably while twirling their well-waxed moustaches) just to cause trouble for librarians and corrupt youth.  I really don’t think Patron’s intent was to ‘sneak’ a bad word into her book to create controversy.  I honestly believe that Patron didn’t even think that ‘scrotum’ was a bad word.  Because it isn’t.  It’s not even used in the context of it being a swear word but just to accurately describe the area of a dog’s body that was bitten.  And I agree with her—it does have a nice ring to it!

This brings me around to my main issue with censorship in public schools, and The Higher Power of Lucky is a perfect example.  Some of the librarians in this article openly admit that the reason they banned the book wasn’t out of concern for the children but rather because they wanted to avoid complaints and conversations with children that might cause them discomfort.  I think that this is the real cause for most censorship in school libraries.  People will claim they censor to protect children, but as I said children are not that fragile and will come to no harm from such single words and passages.  The real reason that people censor children’s collections is to protect themselves from conversations that they don’t feel comfortable having.  Rather than viewing these passages as opportunities to educate our children about the world around them parents and (much to my chagrin) librarians choose to ban books entirely if they have the potential of brining about a conversation about basic human anatomy or lifestyle choices, or shameful aspects of the past.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  If you don’t want to educate children on these basic issues then you shouldn’t have children and you shouldn’t work around them.  Why would you work at an elementary school if you are uncomfortable with teaching?  Sure, these conversations might initially be awkward, but it will probably only be felt by the adult.  And the more you embrace these opportunities for education the better you will be able to handle these conversations and the better educator you will be.  After all, shouldn’t everyone who spends time around children embrace any opportunity to improve their communication and teaching abilities?

For the record, my library has a copy of The Higher Power of Lucky.

Bosman, J. (2007, February 18). With one word, children’s book sets off uproar. New York Times.  Retrieved from: