November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Art History Without Nudity?; Gay “Captain Underpants” | Scales on Censorship

The art teacher at my middle school wants to introduce her students to the works of famous artists. The library has excellent art resources, but the teacher wants assurance that I will not show students books featuring works with nudity or depicting any type of violence. How do I deal with this teacher?
If the teacher is uncomfortable with the art, suggest that you might speak to the class before they begin their research. Appeal to the students’ intellect, and tell them that artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and numerous others were noted for their nudes. Much religious art shows violence—people speared and dripping with blood. Show them examples.

Ask students to focus on each work they research and what it conveys, as well as the technique. Then have them share their insights. My bet is that you won’t hear one giggle over nudity or see any astonishment about violence.

Also, would the teacher accept research from the Internet portraying nudity or violence? Ask why she assigned the project if she won’t do it thoroughly.

An eighth-grade honors English teacher in my school retired five years ago. She never had complaints about literature that she taught, perhaps because she was so well respected by students and parents. The teacher who replaced her is excellent, but he has faced numerous complaints about the novels he chooses to teach. He says that this will be his last year because he’s sick of the hassle. What can I, as the librarian, do to support him?
It’s unfortunate that someone so qualified is so discouraged. Parents need to understand that honors English is for students who can handle challenging literature. This includes works that deal with themes that broaden a student’s view of the world. Suggest that the teacher engage parents in an online discussion of the literature he is teaching and provide pointers for discussing the books with their children. The parents may even consider completing some of the writing assignments and comparing their thoughts with their children’s. Parents will begin to trust the teacher as they become involved in a positive way. And the literature may broaden their world.

SLJ1702-Scales-PQThe public library where I work is so small that we don’t have a children’s librarian. One of my duties is to purchase children’s books. I always buy the newest “Captain Underpants” title because I know the series is popular. Now I learn that the latest book has a gay character, and I’m second-guessing my decision. Why doesn’t the review media point out such issues to better assist librarians in making purchasing decisions?
The title you’re referencing is Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot, in which Harold, one of the main characters, sees himself as a grown-up married to a man. Kids do flock to this series, including this title. The responsibility of the review media is to analyze a book for literary contribution and popular appeal. It isn’t their job to “warn” librarians about content unless it impacts the quality of the book. To do so is equivalent to applying a label, which contributes to censorship.

My district has sent several emails directing librarians to remove specific titles. Last year, it was Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, which was on our state book award list. This year, we were told to remove Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from middle schools. I wasn’t allowed to order a book about the KKK because it might make parents uncomfortable. However, a sister school uses it in social studies. I’m afraid to raise the issue that district personnel are bypassing the selection and materials reconsideration policy because I need to eat and pay my mortgage.
I’m assuming you mean district-level personnel when you say “my district.” Is it one person issuing the directive? Did that individual go after these titles after reading that the books are controversial? If so, the school board may not even know about the selection policy or the reconsideration procedure. The board must have the policy brought to their attention. Students can be very convincing when speaking passionately about specific titles. Perhaps you can encourage them to speak before the board.

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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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Comments

  1. Art of all ages is fueled by highly emotional moments, of which violence and nudity are certainly its most prominent representatives. As an educator I had the same dilemma, especially when it came to the parents who were uneasy discussing these topics.
    Thanks for your great points and reflections.

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