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September 30, 2014

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Mum’s the Word: What to do when a pushy principal has questionable principles | Scales on Censorship

In addition to reading your column, what’s the best way to keep up with news about censorship?

Start by checking out the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (www.ala.org/offices/oif), which maintains a database of challenges to library materials. These challenges are reported in its Intellectual Freedom Newsletter ($50 a year), unless the person reporting the challenge asks ALA to keep the information confidential. Another helpful resource is Robert P. Doyle’s Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read (ALA, 2010). The National Coalition Against Censorship (http://ncac.org/) records censorship cases on its website and in a newsletter that’s available for those on its mailing list. You might also want to check the state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Council of Teachers of English. If you do a quick Google search, you may be surprised by the amount of censorship cases you’ll discover—some of them may even be in your own backyard.

Our assistant principal found a library book on the cafeteria floor. He wanted me to tell him who had checked it out, so he could tell the student that he’d have to pay for any lost books. I responded by asking the administrator to put the book in our book drop. He was furious.

You did the right thing. This is a confidentiality issue, and I’d hope that the administration understands that. Kids drop as many books as Hansel and Gretel did bread crumbs. The important part is that the books usually find their way home.

A sixth-grade teacher asked his students to select a book of their choice to share with the class. When a student picked a book about evolution, he made her return it and then asked me to justify why I had books on evolution in our library. The girl was upset because she was genuinely interested in the subject, and I felt as though my professional judgment was being challenged. How should I handle this?

You should talk to the student first because the teacher has probably thoroughly humiliated her. Let her know that there’s nothing wrong with reading about evolution, and perhaps she should talk to her teacher about the assignment. After all, he gave his class permission to choose any book that interested them and he can’t take that back just because he doesn’t agree with a student’s selection. Make sure that the student knows that she can borrow books about evolution anytime she wants.

I’d also request a conference with the teacher. It’s time that he understands that library materials represent many different ideas, beliefs, and theories. He also needs to understand that a library provides materials to satisfy students’ individual interests. In this case, the student is interested in evolution.

I’m in library school and one of our assignments is to chart the challenges to the “Harry Potter” series. I’ve noticed in the literature that new challenges arose every time a new “Harry Potter” book was published. Is that typical when the first book in a series has been challenged?

Yes, that’s what typically happens. After the first book in Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” series was challenged, each new title faced challenges for identical reasons: “unruly behavior,” “language,” and “underwear.” The Agony of Alice, the first volume in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s “Alice” series, wasn’t challenged until the later titles triggered concerns because of “references to alcohol” and “questions about sex and sexuality.” Anastasia Krupnik, the first book in Lois Lowry’s “Anastasia” series, was challenged for its “language,” which sparked additional complaints about the series’ subsequent titles. And Suzanne Collins’s entire “Hunger Games” trilogy has been challenged for its “violence” and “dystopian society.”

Sometimes a body of unrelated work by a particular writer ends up being challenged. This has certainly been the case for books by Judy Blume, Laurie Halse Anderson, Ellen Hopkins, Walter Dean Myers, Robert Lipsyte, Chris Lynch, and Chris Crutcher.

About Pat Scales

Pat Scales is chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. You can send your questions or comments on censorship to her at pscales@bellsouth.net.

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