Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Over 10,000 views and 100 posts!!

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting on this blog over the past 8 months or so.  I was definitely not expecting this many visitors when I started out last August.  I hope that what I post on has been informative and useful.  I will try to keep up with the blog as much as possible in the coming year, but since I am working on my thesis now, I will not make any promises that I will be able to post as often as I have been for the last few months.  Keep checking in for updates, though!!  And thanks again for all the visits and the support in raising awareness of censorship issues, book challenges, and other literary topics of interest.

Thanks for listening!


P.S. I know it's not about books, but here's an interesting article on the ACLU vs. limiting online access to LGBT content in American schools.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Parental Inclusion in the Reading Process

In researching for a paper on challenges to picture books with same-sex parents, I came across this very interesting and engaging quotation, taken from The Pleasure of Children's Books by Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer.
[Children] have special need of knowledge as a resource to make sense of new things. Those who are deprived of knowledge of certain attitudes or forms of behavior and, therefore, prevented from thinking about why they might be harmful, are the ones most likely to take such attitudes or commit such acts. To deprive children of the opportunity to read about confusing or painful matters like those that they might actually be experiencing will either make literature irrelevant to them or else leave them feeling they are alone in their thoughts or experiences. ([emphasis added] 102-3)
This is pretty much the thesis of this blog, that to deprive people (and especially children and teens) of the option of reading books that highlight certain attitudes and beliefs (possibly contradictory to their own) is not helpful, but more harmful in the long run.  I understand that parents are only trying to protect their children, in most circumstances.  As Reimer and Nodelman say,
"In trying to protect children, however, these adults may well be doing more harm than good" (102). 
"It also deprives adults of the opportunity to discuss these matters with children, and to share their own attitudes with them. Without such discussions, adults might actually diminish their control over children rather than increase it" (103).
Just my two cents for the day, and good food for thought.  I like to think that this blog is not advocating for the removal of the parent, but more inclusion of the parent in the reading life of children and teens.  The more parents and children are involved in the reading process early on, the better children and young adults can learn to use a critical eye while reading, instead of absorbing everything like large unguarded sponges.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, March 18, 2011

From the Mouths of Librarians...

Photo Credit goes to the
Ventura County Star

Today is a short post, but no less important than any other.  This quotation comes from Barbara Wolfe, the new head librarian at the Camarillo Public Library, in an article in the Ventura County Star.  Wolfe used to work at the Moorpark Library in Ontario, working 5 hrs a week to read with children.  Here are her words of wisdom for the day:

"Libraries are a core foundation of a free society.  People are often offended by some of the things they find, but we're not about censorship."  In fact, she was offended when O.J. Simpson's book became available at the library. "But there's something here to offend everyone. And that's the way it should be," she says.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bedford's New Checklist...

The Paper: UnionLeader.com
The Article: Bedford school book rating checklist stirs opposition
The Author: Greg Kwasnik
The Opening Lines:
Several anti-censorship groups are speaking out against a proposed checklist that Bedford school officials plan to use to rate books and other instructional materials. 
On March 11, the Kids' Right to Read Project -- a collaboration between the American Booksellers for Free Expression and the National Coalition Against Censorship -- sent a letter opposing the checklist to Bedford administrators. 
The letter was also signed by officials from the Association of American Publishers, the National Council of Teachers of English and the PEN American Center.
Bedford Schools have been plagued in recent months, first with the removal of a textbook from a course on economics, and soon after the removal of a text, and subsequently an entire summer class, all on the basis of one set of parents.  The school admits that if they do this anymore they will be falling down a slippery slope.  I would assert, however, that they have fallen a good way down that slope already.

In a renewed attempt to limit controversy by contriving a checklist by which to assess classroom materials and books on reading lists, the school has unfortunately only succeeded in landing in yet another pile of metaphorical fecal matter, leading the outcry from a number of Human Rights groups and organizations advocating for freedom to read.
The letter [submitted by the NCAC, KRRP, and other groups] also suggests that the new checklist was proposed with an eye to preventing future complaints, rather than improving the quality of the school's curriculum. 
"While we applaud the efforts by school officials to create a system for curricular selections, we suggest that this response is both misguided and insufficient, because it is being driven in whole or in part by a desire to prevent parental complaints in the future," the group writes.
 Joan Bertin, Executive director of the NCAC went on to say,
"The last checklist we saw had one category which was 'Won't cause unnecessary controversy,''' Bertin said in an interview. "Well, that is exactly the wrong kind of thing to put on the checklist. Once you put that on the checklist, you're going to have a lot of unnecessary controversy."
The idea behind the checklist is to create a document that can be rigorously applied to all texts that are under review, but the problem with checklists such as these is that they don't allow for contextual analysis of the materials for specific situations.
According to a memo written by Mayes, Bedford's checklist will assign books and other materials a score based on several factors, possibly including violence, drugs, alcohol, profanity and sexuality. That score will be used to determine whether parental consent should be required for certain assignments.
But will this actually help?  The problem seems less to do with the criteria being used for review than it has to do with the way in which censorship is actually being affirmed on a regular basis (or at least two times in a row).  Another problem with these specific instances is that the removal of the books (and the summer class) only causes more publicity and it makes the books out to be something much worse than they actually are.

Censorship, rather than helping, usually ends up hindering, by protecting and hiding things; by fear mongering and other tactics.  Children don't end up learning how to think and be critical, and parents give up valuable opportunities to have conversations about controversial topics with their children and teens.

Do checklists like this one actually work?  It doesn't appear so according to the opposing groups, but I have no way of knowing for sure.  Have you come across a similar situation employing a checklist that would seem to produce more harm than good?  Let me know.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Vancouver School Board's "Diversity Team"?

Diversity doesn't mean getting rid of materials that offend, but including a greater variety of books.  Right?  That's what I thought too.

The "Diversity Team" in Vancouver schools is being criticized by journalist Mark Hasiuk of the Vancouver Courier for actually suffocating diversity by removing books from the curriculum and libraries to make room for accurate (?) materials:
According to the Team’s 27-page Planning Tool for Vancouver Educators, elementary school teachers and administrators should: “Choose a range of children’s literature that accurately portrays all kinds of families, various cultural communities and traditions.” 
Nothing wrong with that. We live in a multicultural, multiracial society. But they don’t stop there. 
“Review the resources you use with a critical eye,” reads the manual, “for possible hidden messages about cultural, gender and other stereotypes.”
 Hasiuk goes on to reveal his interpretation of what this means to the schools under the VSB:
...one thing is certain. If educators listen to the team, and its how-to manual on book banning, Vancouver schools will be purged of classic children’s literature. In light of the team’s narrow interpretation of the acceptable, no one is safe. Not C.S. Lewis and his Christian overtones. Nor Mark Twain or Horatio Alger or Roald Dahl—all inherently racist white men who dared publish before our current era of enlightenment.
And his evidence?  Here's the account he brings forward from another article:
In 2009, retired teacher-librarian Val Hamilton sent a letter to the Courier describing those halcyon days when she ruled Vancouver school libraries at Carleton elementary and elsewhere. “When I took over a school library, the first part I weeded was the religion section,” remembered Hamilton. “I removed the Bible stories, in one school it was several dozen, and replaced them with a large selection of books explaining the various religions in the world.” 
I visited Carleton last Friday afternoon. Hamilton’s legacy remains intact. The Carleton library is Bible-free.
Not having actually looked into the Diversity Team myself, I cannot comment especially on this topic, nor can I prove that the information is correct and valid besides taking what Hasiuk says at face value.  What I can say, however, is that if this is actually the case, and books are being removed to accomodate more diverse resources, then the policy they are working from is extremely problematic.

If it is true that books are being removed in order to change the landscape of literature available for students, this is no longer promoting diversity, but promoting a limited scope of certain acceptable works.  Personally, this is a frightening prospect and I certainly hope that it isn't true, but only a misunderstanding, though I don't wish to say that Hasiuk is mistaken either.

Has anyone reading this blog heard about this issue, or do you have anything to add?  I hope you have gotten something out of this post.

As always, thanks for listening!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Betrayed stays in the library...

Today I'm sharing a happy(ish) (happy unless a decision comes down to ban the book, of course) situation brought to us by Reba Lean from newsminer.com.  The book in question is Betrayed (P.C. and Kristin Cast), a book about vampires and all that good stuff.  Apparently it's got a few steamy scenes that go a bit far, according to one parent at least.  The book was put under evaluation by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District a few months ago.  The book is currently still available in all the school libraries within the district.
The committee of parents, teachers and administrators was created by Superintendent Pete Lewis. Its recommendation will be forwarded to him. Lewis will decide by April 1 whether to keep the book in the district’s high school libraries or ban it, according to Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools Wayne Gerke.

At the hearing, Ken Spiers, who brought the book complaint forward, spoke for 10 minutes on the reasoning behind his complaint. 
“It simply causes kids to think even more of things sexual,” Spiers wrote in his original complaint about the teenage vampire novel.
Until the decision is brought forward in April, the books are still available to students, and I wouldn't be surprised if the students started taking the books out more often now that there is controversy.  I'm not the biggest fan of vampires in a lot of books, but I can still deal with them.  Most people who read about vampires, though, know that they are sexual figures: they are exotic, erotic, penetrating, etc.  But does that mean they should disappear?  Well, they certainly haven't yet, and if trends in YA literature are anything to go by, they are only becoming more popular with young people.

What do you think of Vampires and vampire literature?  Should they be taken off the shelves or re-assigned to a more adult place on the shelf?  Should these sexualized beings be the centre of so many books for young people?

Thanks for listening!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bedford Parents Striking Back

My apologies for the longer than normal hiatus.  I'm in the middle of my last term of classes and have more than one paper on the go.  As a result, I haven't had a chance to post anything for a bit.  An now, on to the content...

I have written a few times about the now infamous Taylors (as I've so dubbed them) and their apparent desire to make the school district follow their rules.  They have successfully had Nickel and Dimed and Water for Elephants removed from the school curriculum, not only depriving students of the literature, but of the opportunity to develop critical thinking and make their own decisions about what they read.

Now the parents of Bedford are starting to strike back against censorship (and the Taylors) by putting together a petition, according to Cameron Kittle at the Bedford Journal:
More than 400 people have signed an online petition called “Stop Banning Books in Bedford” on the website www.change.org, where anyone can organize online campaigns for changes they want to see in their communities or across the world. 
The petition stresses the point that while parents have every right to determine what books are acceptable for their child, they should not force their own views upon the school district and demand the books be removed from a curriculum. 
It argues specifically against the views of Dennis and Aimee Taylor, the two Bedford parents who have publicly condemned two books that were pulled this year – “Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America,” by Barbara Ehrenreich, and “Water for Elephants,” by Sara Gruen.
It's about time, in my opinion, that Bedford residents show support for learning rather than always pampering and sheltering, as would seem to be happening right now.  Monica Vegelj, a resident of Bedford, and one of the people who has signed the petition, said,
“[The removal of Water for Elephants] would be very straightforward for those parents, if they have an objection for their own family values, to exclude their own children. I think it’s important that we leave our teachers, administrators and school trustees to do their job.” 
“I think it’s an adequate choice built in, and in this particular case because it’s an elective to begin with,” she said.
She goes on to say,
“To me, what’s more important than reading the book or not reading the book is how the book is taken up and discussed,” she said. “These young adults are transitioning into adulthood. They’ll be exposed to this very soon."   
"We should be prepared to have meaningful discussions, not just have a closing of doors. In a free society, it’s just inappropriate,” she said.
And this is what I keep saying.  I'm starting to feel like a broken record, and maybe that means I'm running out of material, but maybe it also means the lesson is just not being learned: parents have every right to decide what their own children should read, but if no other parent has an objection, then the material should be allowed to be taught.  It is no single parent's right to decide what is appropriate for children that are not their own.
“Mr. Taylor has every right to chose what his teenagers read,” the petition reads. “Our school district has a policy in place. If a parent or student is uncomfortable with a book, they simply need to say so, and an alternative text will be offered. 
“Mr. Taylor should not demand that every student in the school district have to follow the same rules he applies to his family. Students reading choices should not be filtered through Mr. Taylor’s political or religious filters. All parents have a right to believe in and trust their school district, and they have a right to choose if their teenager can read this book.”
As in many schools, there is an option to choose an alternative title, but the Taylors felt this would make their child feel excluded from the discussion (which they would be in some ways) but that is the choice of the parents and that should not be carried forward to affect every other child in the classroom.

What do you think of this situation?  Do you think that having the option of choosing an alternative text is, in effect, exclusionary and an inappropriate alternative?

Thanks for reading.  Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Push, by Sapphire

Parents are fuming, apparently, over this inclusion of Push by Sapphire, on a recommended middle school reading list.  While the content might be "pushing" it (pun intended) for middle school children, there are other issues at stake here, such as parental assumption that middle school children are inherently immature and cannot deal with harsh language or life lessons.  

I have worked with middle school students before, and no, they are not the most mature acting people around, but these are the same kids that come up with incredibly deep and relevant questions about life and literature and existentialism.  Just because they act immature at times doesn't mean that they are incapable of understanding and critically reading books with difficult themes.

In a public hearing at with the school board and other parents, one man stood up and started reading excerpts.  The following is from TheSunNews.com:
Anthony Trinca told the board that many of the books on the reading list selections for middle school students are inappropriate. He cited the book "Push," reading "edited" excerpts to avoid questionable language, and was applauded by audience members when he called for books that illustrate good family values in America.
Issue #1:  What the heck is a good family value in America?  I can understand that certain cultural assumptions are being made about what a "normal" or "good" family is, but is there any example of these types of families actually existing?  Sure, there are books out there that can be rated "G" by a group of parents, but are these books actually helpful in developing critical thinking in children?  Perhaps in a few cases, but in my experience a lot of these "innocent" books come with a little lesson at the end, and pictures of fuzzy animals hugging on the cover.  Cute? Yes.  Critically useful? Not so much in this case.
"We would never knowingly have chosen that book and wholeheartedly agree it was not an appropriate selection for the classroom," Britton said. "It may have been OK in another community, but the material really requires a mature person to process the harshness of the language and the harshness of that life story."
Issue #2: I mentioned this briefly at the beginning of the post, and that is the parental assumption that middle school students are not mature enough to handle a story about a sexually abused young girl who ends up overcoming adversity and becoming a strong, self-sustaining adult.  It is precisely this assumption of presumed innocence that creates difficulty in choosing books for young people to read.  Teachers are trained to understand the learning process and the abilities of children to think for themselves.  Obviously these are generalizations and some children are exceptions, but if parents are constantly attempting to keep their children innocent, there can be negative consequences.
“In trying to protect children, however, these adults may well be doing more harm than good.  Our discussion of ideology suggests that ignorance is always likely to do more harm than knowledge can.  The more people are aware of, the less likely they are to operate in terms of ‘obviousness’ that might be harming or disempowering themselves and others.” (Nodelman and Reimer, Pleasures of Children's Literature 102) 
So, with that in mind, think about what happens when children are deprived of certain literature based on an assumption of innocence.  Sure, protection is important in some instances, but schools are precisely the place where children should be allowed to read and explore challenging topics in an environment where critical thinking is (hopefully) being encouraged and there are teachers who are (hopefully) guiding discussion.  Not perfectly safe, but safer than letting kids find out about certain things from personal experience.

Thanks for listening.