Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bedford's New Checklist...

The Paper:
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.

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