Sunday, January 15, 2006

Freedom to Read

Jacquielynn Floyd of the Dallas Morning News has written a very lucid column on the issue of book banning and restrictions in school libraries. Well done.
Listen, I am not a zealot on this score, some crank who thinks any schoolchild has a perfect right to leaf through coffee-table volumes of Robert Mapplethorpe photos during study hall.

I don't think people with nothing better to do should be permitted to sit in public libraries looking at dirty pictures on the Internet, and I think a teenage loner who walks around with a copy of Mein Kampf under one arm probably needs some kind of intervention.

An Irving (TX) school district reconsideration committee reviewed the book, When Jeff Comes Home and determined the book would be allowed to remain in the library collection.

The district superintendent subsequently ruled that students will need written parental permission to check the book out after being contacted by the complaining parent who was not happy with the committee's decision.

This week, the school board canceled a hearing that had been called to challenge a new policy of requiring middle school students to obtain written permission from their parents before reading When Jeff Comes Home.

In short, district librarians abandoned the fight to maintain open access to the book in their own libraries.

"We just decided it was better right now to withdraw the appeal," one Irving middle school media specialist told The Dallas Morning News.

Why? It's not even as though an angry mob had descended on school headquarters over this book. It was one very persistent parent.

I would guess that 99% of all parents are willing to respect other families' rights to make their own decisions about their children's reading material. Amazingly, despite what you hear on the news, it seems like any individual can have anything they want from a public school system if they make enough noise.

It is important to remember that a book challenge is NEVER about the book. In my experience there is always another issue: guilt, anger, revenge, power...the book is just the vehicle.

Administrators figure they have bigger issues to deal with and just want the problem to go away. Many are NOT profiles in courage when it comes to following their own district guidelines for reconsideration of instructional materials. They think they can avoid the publicity that comes with book banning.

Well, Mr. Singley, when you try to placate everyone, no one is happy.

In this day and age, book challenges are becoming a routine part of school life. Administrators and librarians need to keep their nerve, avoid panic and deal with it. One individual should not be able to intimidate an administration or dictate reading choices to my family.


Anonymous said...

That Mein Kampf comment is just creepy. What impact could it have on a teen's reading habits (or general faith in The System) to be "intervention"-ed based on their reading choices?


It is important to remember that a book challenge is NEVER about the book. In my experience there is always another issue: guilt, anger, revenge, power...the book is just the vehicle.

Very true, and not just book challenges - true in any case where the complaintant can't (or doesn't think they'll win if they) air their complaint directly.

Camille said...

I think the Mein Kampf comment is meant to be tongue in cheek because I do sense a real "right to read" spirit in Floyd.

I do know someone who really was buying MK for her daughter's boyfriend for a Christmas present because that is what he "really" wanted. (He is not a psychology or history major or enthusiast.) As broadminded as I would hope to be, if it was MY daughter's boyfriend, I might be a wondering just a little bit about the lad.