Point-Contrepoint: Banning books in public schools and libraries | Chroniclers


Where do you draw the line between censorship and age?

“You are for censorship! It’s against the First Amendment!

“Do you think school libraries should offer Hustler?” “

“OK, so you’re in favor of ‘censorship’ too. Now we are just negotiating where to draw the line.

A good friend (and fervent libertarian) uses this imaginary dialogue to make an important point. Even those of us who see ourselves as free speech absolutists have to draw our limits somewhere. I have spent my entire adult life in two fields of work, journalism and education, both of which have an immune response to censorship. But I am more and more sympathetic to the line shooters.

Frankly, I do not find any perennial and intractable arguments about canonical literary works so convincing. We’ve had over a century to decide whether or not “Huckleberry Finn” belonged to school libraries or English classes, so it’s clear that no resolution is within reach. I also don’t expect the next 100 years to decide whether “Beloved,” “Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Seeker in the Rye,” or other frequently contested works are on the program. ‘studies.

The most difficult front in wars of censorship concerns new and relatively obscure works aimed at readers, from infants to young adults, who cannot claim canonical status. These new works are published, promoted and defended on the basis of “authenticity and inclusiveness”. To question them – to draw a line – is to risk an accusation of ignorance, fanaticism or worse.

Editors of young adult novels have pounced on each other in recent years to release controversial texts on the themes of sexual abuse, racism, domestic violence, gang life, school shootings and more. other “realistic” topics, in widely read books like “Hate U Give”, “Thirteen Reasons Why” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”.

Picture books for small children are even more confusing. I’m old enough to remember the controversies that followed “Heather Has Two Mommies” (1989) or “And Tango Makes Three” (2005), which sought to normalize gay and lesbian family structures.

This push for normalization is now going to sobering limits for age reasons, even to parents who see themselves as progressive. “How Moms Love Their Babies,” for example, is described by Kirkus Reviews as an “incredibly inclusive” book, and the first to portray a sex worker parent. One illustration shows a stripper at a peep show with the text: “Some moms dance the night away with special shoes on. It’s hard work! ”The School Library Journal recommends it for“ serious consideration ”for children in Kindergarten to Grade 4.

SLJ also praised and recommended the “What Are Your Words? A book on pronouns ”, which“ models the ease with which our language can adapt to gender diversity and the use of pronouns ”. For toddlers, the familiar children’s song “The Wheels on the Bus” has been rewritten as “The Hips on the Drag Queen Go Swish, Swish, Swish”.

“Why is this kind of awake content pushed so hard into children’s books? Conservative cultural critic Bethany Mandel asked in a recent tweet about the aforementioned picture books. “In short: everyone in the pipeline is awake. Book agents, authors, publishers, marketing. Anyone who is not is silenced. And who buys it? Librarians and teachers. Also infested with alarm clock.

She’s not wrong, especially about the increasingly harsh criticisms of those wondering if all of this (to use an expression suddenly visible in her absence) is age-appropriate. This confluence of impulses, the sincere desire to signal to children that everyone is well and that anything goes, makes conflict inevitable.

Instead, we need to reaffirm that you are not a homophobe if you don’t want your child exposed to explicit illustration of oral sex like in the graphic novel ‘Gender Queer’. You are also not a white supremacist if you doubt the wisdom of exposing young children to the racist picture book “Not My Idea.” A book on whiteness ”, which concludes:“ Whiteness is a bad deal. It always has been.

Maybe that’s where you draw the line. And there is nothing wrong with doing it.

Parents cannot dictate what other parents’ children can or cannot read

The American Library Association fully supports the right of every parent to control what their child reads and to choose alternative reading or educational materials for their child. We do not believe, however, that a parent’s right to control their child’s reading includes a right to restrict what other children read or to limit the books available to young people in the library.

Our conviction is firmly anchored in the First Amendment. Young people have First Amendment rights – not only the right to speak, but the right to access and use school or public library resources, without any censorship resulting from disapproval of content or opinions of a book. Our courts, including the Supreme Court, have held that a decision by a school board or library to remove a book from its library because the board disapproves of the words, ideas or opinions in the book constitutes a violation of the rights of a minor. Modification rights.

This principle applies even when it comes to a parent or group of parents demanding that elected or appointed officials censor books they find offensive or inappropriate because the books conflict with their beliefs. moral, political or religious. While the First Amendment promises freedom of belief and the right to express that belief, it does not guarantee the right to dictate to school boards or library boards what ideas or beliefs can be found in our publicly funded libraries. . Publicly funded libraries are community institutions that must serve the interests and information needs of every child, every family and every individual in the community. By necessity, their collections must reflect the diversity of thought and values ​​that exist in each community.

These aren’t easy problems to navigate, let alone solve, especially when books are seen as a threat by parents and partisan activists because they challenge assumptions they have about their world.

Designating a wide range of books that deal with the lives of gay, homosexual or transgender people, or that tell the stories of black, native or colored people as inappropriate or worse, does not only inflict trauma on vulnerable youth and to their families who are members of these groups, it also threatens our democratic values.

Librarians and library workers will be the first to recognize that not all books are suitable for all readers. But librarians and librarians will also be the first to tell you that censorship only succeeds in fostering conditions that destroy our precious freedoms – our freedom to read and think for ourselves, which belongs to young and old alike.

Parents should certainly be able to direct their child’s reading, and librarians and library workers are more than willing to help parents identify books for their children that reflect their values. But librarians and librarians are also committed to defending the right of their communities to read and learn. Rather than teaching censorship lessons, librarians and librarians strive to assert the importance of the freedom to read and demonstrate to young people that in this country they have the right and the responsibility to think critically. what they read, rather than allowing others to do their thinking for them.


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