Summer Reading Challenged | Scales on Censorship

Recommending books to rising sixth graders sparks controversy

The social studies teachers in my middle school have always required students to bring in an article about a current event. Some parents have complained because the assignment encourages political conversation. Many families don’t subscribe to newspapers and magazines, which creates a homework barrier for students. How can we handle this situation?

The social studies curriculum is where current events belong. This assignment shouldn’t be changed because parents complained. Tell them that it is important for students to know what is going on in the community, nation, and world. Lessons on current events are a good way to help students become discerning learners. Teachers should ensure that these discussions represent multiple viewpoints, and they must not discuss their own political views.

If shared articles contain bias, that should be pointed out to the students. I hope the school subscribes to databases with newspaper and magazine articles. Allow time in the school day for students to access such articles. Most public libraries offer remote access to their databases by logging in with a current library card. Inform parents and students about this service. A public librarian could come to the class at the beginning of the school year and issue library cards to students who don’t have them.

 

We offer summer reading choices to our middle school students, but language arts teachers are uncomfortable giving a summer reading list to rising sixth graders because they don’t know the students yet. They fear their suggestions may bring challenges. What’s your advice?
When I was a school librarian, I provided summer reading lists to rising sixth graders that included 10 or 15 annotated titles in each of the following genres: fantasy, science fiction, adventure, mystery, realism, nonfiction, and poetry. I wrote a letter to students welcoming them to middle school and advised them to use the lists as a guide for summer reading fun. I had labels printed with the names of rising sixth graders and personally delivered them to the students at their elementary school. This worked so well that a number of parents whose fifth graders were zoned for other middle schools called and asked if they could get a copy of the reading lists. There were so many reading choices that I never had a censorship problem.

 

The mother of a rising sixth grader called to ask if her child could bring AR points earned in elementary school to middle school. I told her that we don’t have AR. Upset, she demanded to know how the teachers could monitor reading progress without this program. She also mentioned that she likes a log of what her child is reading. She then called the principal. How would you answer the parent?
There are two issues: curriculum and privacy. The school establishes the curriculum, not parents. You answered her in an honest, straightforward manner: the school doesn’t use the AR program. That should be enough. I hope the principal ended the conversation. If you get more complaints, tell parents that AR simply measures comprehension. That’s important, but an excellent literature program teaches students to think more deeply about books, including character analysis, theme, plot structure, and language use. Stress the importance of students reading for enjoyment. If they’re tested on every book they read, they are likely to be turned off to reading.

Students should expect privacy when using library resources. If they choose to keep a reading log, what they do with it should be up to them. Check your state’s privacy laws and post them in the library and on its website. Discuss them with students at the beginning of the school year.

 

The principal in my high school doesn’t want me to mention Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to students when I do media training with them. He says social media isn’t allowed in school, and there is no need to discuss it.

Like it or not, high school students use social media. There are certainly reported cases where conflicts between students at school were created by improper behavior on these sites—bullying, name-calling, intimidation, etc. Schools are intensely concerned about student safety, and this should include conduct on social media. Many parents don’t understand communication on the Internet and don’t know how to instruct their teens. I would go so far as to offer a workshop for parents and their teens after school hours. Perhaps the PTA could sponsor it.

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

 

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