A Parent Says No to 'Malala' | Scales on Censorship

Pat Scales weighs in on challenging reading choices, a library clerk who judges reading selections, and a panel on gun violence.

A seventh-grade social studies teacher in my school used I Am Malala when her class was studying Pakistan. A parent complained that she didn’t want her daughter reading anything about the Pakistani culture. What should the teacher do?

One of the best ways to learn about a specific culture is by reading a book written by someone from that culture. Malala’s story is a firsthand account of how women and girls are treated in Pakistan and her courage and determination in her fight for the right for girls to receive an education. Students would never learn this in a textbook. That said, this is a curriculum issue that should be taken up with the principal and the school district. Parents shouldn’t be allowed to rewrite the social studies curriculum. The district might allow a student to opt out of reading a specific book, but I doubt it would allow any parent to control what other students read. Check your school district’s curriculum policies.

In my daughter’s elementary school, the librarian works only with technology. She leaves reader guidance up to the library clerk. I wouldn’t have a problem, except the clerk seems to judge what the students are reading. She chastised my daughter for reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I’m a middle school librarian, and I’m careful not to pass judgment on student reading.
It’s too bad that the librarian devotes all her time to technology, but if her school’s library services are set up in this manner, she needs to have a training session with the clerk. Make an appointment to talk with the librarian. She may not know that the clerk is judging reading choices. Tell the librarian that you respect your daughter’s decisions about the books she reads, and you would request that the clerk do the same. This is a serious issue that could influence whether a young person becomes a lifelong reader.

I’m a teen librarian in a large urban library. I wanted to use fiction to engage teens in a discussion about gun violence. I announced the program, we were all set, and the director asked that I cancel after a parent complained.

It disappoints me that a library director would shut down dialogue about any topic. Your plan to engage teens in with this issue should be applauded. They see the news on television and on their mobile devices. When we shut down communication, we are contributing to the problem. Sometimes thinking about issues through story is the best way to spark critical thinking. Ask the library director if the program can proceed if you include panel participation from law enforcement, social services, psychologists, and any other persons from the community who may present different perspectives. The parent who complained could be included. That would give teens a broad look at this complicated debate while celebrating their right to free speech and inquiry. If this type of discussion can’t occur in the public library, I’m not sure we are truly serving patrons.

At one time I subscribed to two listservs to help me interact with others in the profession. I occasionally commented, but I mostly lurked to see what others were saying. Then when things got ugly—bullying-type rhetoric—I unsubscribed. I was afraid to say anything for fear these people would attack me. When is the line drawn between free speech and bullying on professional online sites?
This is an excellent question. “Bullying” is subjective and shouldn’t be confused with extreme passion about a subject. Some professional forums and blogs have guidelines to remind users of proper behaviors. For example, ALSC-L, an open forum provided by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), has a specific policy whose first rule is “be respectful.” There is a way to report improper behavior, but action will only be taken if participants do not follow guidelines. Remember that because we are a free speech nation, everyone can decide how they receive information. If you became uncomfortable with these online exchanges, you were right to unsubscribe.

Pat Scales is the former chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send ­questions to her at pscales@bellsouth.net.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

Margot Stornelli

Shameful, parents can't dictate what is taught in the classroom. If they disapprove, they should discuss their perspective at home with the child.

Posted : Jul 31, 2019 05:23

Julie Testa

In regard to the clerk, I would also advise the parent to inform the principal of the conversation. While it would make sense for a librarian to be the supervisor for the clerk, that is not always how it works in schools. I have heard many cases in which the clerk disregards instructions from the librarian because they “aren’t the boss”.

Posted : Jul 29, 2019 02:43

Franny Parrish

At my school where I am the Library Aide, there have been multiple instances where what we say to the children and the reality of what we have said or done is completely mangled and misinterpreted. There are multiple times where I have encouraged the students to branch out beyond Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I feel like a tour guide as I try to introduce so many of the other wonderful books in our library. Talk to the clerk first, there might be a misunderstanding.

Posted : Aug 14, 2019 10:07



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing