November 17, 2017

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Mock Election Worries | Scales on Censorship

The principal of my high school told the social studies teachers that the school couldn’t hold a mock presidential election this year. He fears complaints because of the vitriolic rhetoric from the candidates. These mock elections have been a tradition. How can we convince the principal that this is a good lesson in civics?
I don’t know how a teacher can teach civics and government without talking about the importance of voting. Some high school students are old enough to vote, and they need to know how to register, the importance of looking at both sides of issues, the concept of the electoral college, etc. A mock election that is done correctly teaches that there is more to voting than putting a checkmark by a candidate’s name.

It’s not a good idea to ignore the vitriolic rhetoric. Make this a teachable moment by crafting lessons in media literacy. Students need to understand that just because someone has the First Amendment right to “spout off” rhetoric doesn’t mean they are right. What is the media’s responsibility for reporting accurate facts? How are facts checked? How do various networks skew facts? Allow students to debate the issues so they see all sides. It’s likely that their views are shaped by their parents’, but schools have an obligation to educate, even if it’s uncomfortable.

1610_scales-pq2A parent of a new third grader came into the library and gave me a list of books that her child isn’t allowed to read. The list is from a Christian website that issues warnings about certain titles. I took the list, but I fear that I made a mistake. I noted that Charlotte’s Web is on the list. This is a concern, because our third grade teachers read that book aloud.
Disregard the list that you accepted. In the future, refuse the list and give parents a copy of the school’s selection policy so that they understand the factors contributing to book selection. Let them know that a librarian doesn’t police what a child reads. That is between the parent and child.

I hope the teachers won’t allow this parent to dictate what they read aloud. Encourage them to continue with their plans. If the parent complains, allow the child to leave the classroom while others enjoy the book. My bet is that the child remains in the classroom.

I’m the librarian in a boarding school for grades 7–12. I want to purchase books about transgender adolescents, but I’m nervous that I will get flak from students. If they feel uncomfortable, I think their parents will complain.
A library should offer a diverse collection, including books about transgender teens. Sometimes the most powerful books make a reader feel a little “uncomfortable.” This isn’t a bad thing, because it helps readers develop empathy for those who are deemed different by their peers. Purchase the books and use them to spark open, honest conversation with students. Let them know that titles such as Cris Beam’s I Am J and Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta allow readers into the lives of transgender teens. How are the transgender characters in the books treated by their friends, family, and society? Where do they go for support? How can we make transgender teens feel accepted? Students engaged in such conversation feel empowered and aren’t likely to complain to you or their parents. Story has the power to change lives and attitudes. First, the books must be there to read.

Our principal just warned the faculty that we shouldn’t friend students on Facebook. Some teachers believe this violates their First Amendment rights.
I don’t believe that this violates anyone’s First Amendment rights. A school district has the right to establish policy regarding proper faculty relationships with students.

Also, I don’t know why a teacher would want to friend a student on Facebook. Conversations that reveal social or political viewpoints, photographs, and the location of a person are there for all “friends” to see. It’s not appropriate for a faculty member to promote this type of casual relationship with a student. Check the school district’s Board Policy Manual for a rule on the proper use of social networking. If there isn’t a policy, ask the principal to alert the superintendent that this should be addressed in a written policy.

Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send questions to pscales@bellsouth.net.

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Pat Scales About Pat Scales

Pat Scales is the former 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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