Monday, January 10, 2011

Age appropriateness...

Christy Jordan, mother of a grade three student at Westside Elementary School in Brooksville, Florida, has challenged the appropriateness of having the novel Snakehead (Anthony Horowitz) in the school library.  Jeff Schmucker of Hernando Today writes:
After reading the back of the book, which is part of the "Alex Rider" series which focuses on a teenage spy, she said drug and weapons smuggling and gang violence is too much for any child to have access to at that age.
"I find it hard to believe that there's a book like that in an elementary school — much less allow third-graders to rent the book," Jordan said. "I thought we were trying to keep them away from all the violence and keep their innocence [for my views on childhood innocence, look here] for as long as we can. It's bad enough that us parents have to battle to keep them away from this stuff on TV, but now we have to battle with the school library?"
While I applaud Christy Jordan for taking an interest in her son's reading habits and for taking the time to find out information about the book, there are a number of issues here that I think make this challenge slightly ridiculous.  Jordan believes that the librarian should somehow be responsible for her son taking out an inappropriate book:
 "At the very least, if they're not going to take it off the shelves, I would at least like to see the librarians better check these books to see if they are appropriate," Jordan said, "and keep a better eye on what kinds of books kids are trying to check out."
But how is any librarian supposed to know what is appropriate for every student?  After the review committee met regarding the book, they brought to attention these facts about age appropriateness and the difficulties in deciding what is "good or bad" for readers of a certain age:
According to meeting notes, members noted that the book likely merits a PG-13 rating, has some "mature" content and, at the public library, is in the young adult section for ages 12 and older.
However, members also agreed that, although the book is not appropriate for children reading at a third-grade level, it is appropriate for children reading at a fifth-grade level.
Some pointed out that recommends the book for all children between 8 and 12 years old, while the School Library Journal review on recommends the book for fifth through 10th grades.
According to one review, then, Jordan's child is old enough, and according to another review, he is not. So the librarian should not be held responsible either. This is difficult, and I understand Jordan's predicament, but is this not the point at which she should talk to her son about appropriateness rather than trying to have the book removed from everyone else's grasp?

The other issue here is that the book was neither part of a classroom reading list, nor was it recommended to Jordan's son by a teacher or administrator.  He took it out of his own volition.  And why shouldn't he?  He thought it looked good.  And maybe if he'd been allowed to read it, he could have decided if he liked it or not, with his mother reading alongside.  Learning experience!  And it's not just me who thinks it this time:
"The parent, not the school, is responsible for censoring the books their child checks out from the media center," according to the meeting minutes.
So now, because Jordan was not satisfied with the review committee's decision, the book is under review by the highest levels at the school board to decide once and for all whether or not the book should remain on the library shelves.  I sincerely hope they do decide to keep it for obvious reasons (to me at least.)

I'm starting to wonder what the point of review committees are since they are so easily disregarded.  Parents in many cases don't get the answer they want, so they say there was bias, and then the case gets sent further on to the school board anyway.  Why not just have the school board form the reviewing panel to begin with?  This is starting to become a nuisance to me, so I'm going to leave it alone now.

What do you think about this one?  Whose responsibility is it to make sure a child brings home age appropriate material?  Or who should decide what is age appropriate in this case?  The mother?  The school library?  The school board?  The book reviewers?

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