Wednesday, March 01, 2006

God help these kids because their parents won't.

I'm happy to see that the students in Utah have dodged a bullet--you know, as I typed those words the potential bad taste of the cliche started to worry me, what with our concern for Safe Schools and all, but then I realized that kids are far more likely to suffer educational damage from their elders than they are gunshot wounds from their peers. As in this latest nonsense from California. (Thanks to As If! for the link.) In explaining why the school trustees removed twenty-three books from the Vista San Gabriel Elementary School, board president Sharon Toyne said, "with this ever-changing society, we have to just stick back to the traditional thing of what kids are supposed to be learning." One assumes she isn't talking about "traditional things" like proper sentence structure. Or coherent thought.


9 comments:

Disco Mermaids said...

As a Californian, this news makes me want to cry. Thankfully, we have groups like As If! to bring it to our attention. The only thing scarier than reading about this kind of stuff is the possibility of having it happen with no one knowing about it.

- Jay

Jane said...

What else can one say but:

OY!

Jane

rindambyers said...

Perhaps the old adage is true here that we only ever really learn how something was made by being able to make it. We can, none of us, remake the universe. So how do any of us really know absolutely how it was made until we can? Remake it, I mean. Actually, this debate over creationism and evolution is pretty funny when you think it through....

I think I am going back and STUDYING that Stephen Hawkings book I have somewhere....hmmmmm might dip back into Genesis too...but one thing's sure, I'm not going to let this particular debate over creationism and evolution destroy my own ability to ever wonder and to ever discover more about the wide, wide world....how much of that do we destroy in children as they grow up in our schools...I wonder that, too.

Melissa Wiley said...

I agree wholeheartedly that the reasons given by the trustees for rejecting some of the books are utterly asinine. Rejecting fantasy because they want "things children would relate to in real life"? Guess Charlotte's Web goes out the window too...and Winnie the Pooh...and the Narnia books...at this rate there won't be much left.

However, I think it's important to be clear about what exactly the trustees have done in this case--they did not remove books from the school library; they removed certain titles from a to-purchase list. This isn't a case of book banning; it is a case of refusal to purchase certain books for the library. The trustees may be exhibiting poor judgment, and I wouldn't want them in charge of stocking my kid's library, but I do see a distinction between yanking existing books off the library shelves and just plain deciding not to buy them in the first place.

Roger Sutton said...

Melissa, I think you're making a difference without a distinction. A library's refusal to purchase material for reasons of doctrinal disapproval--or *fear* of doctrinal disapproval--is at the heart of censorship. Libraries don't buy various titles or subjects for lots of reasons, most of them good. But to not buy something simply because you or a trustee, or another member of the library's service area morally disapproves of it is to not even put up a fight.

Melissa Wiley said...

You know, you raise an important question. Does this board of trustees regularly exercise its veto power over library purchase lists? Or is this a first-time flexing of trustee muscle? I'd like to know more about the background of the case.

I do hope the parents raise a fuss and let the school board know exactly what they think about its judgment (if such idiotic rationales as these trustees have applied can be called "judgment" at all). On my blog, I wondered what would happen if parents tried to donate the rejected titles. If the school board refused to allow them in the library at all, THEN we're talking censorship.

But I do see a distinction between outright book-banning and allotment of funds. Every time a library's new purchasing list is drawn up, SOMEONE is making a judgment about which books are worthy of spending money on. Somewhere along the line, this board of trustees was given the power to decide where the money goes. If parents and teachers object to their decision-making criteria (as, in this case, they certainly should), they should take steps to change the power structure. Surely it makes more sense to grant the parent-teacher committee final authority over the book budget (since those are the folks who actually know and work with the children).

I still maintain, however, that not buying is not the same as removing. Otherwise, wouldn't it be censorship anytime any library decided not to buy any particular book? (I’m not trying to be contentious; I’m genuinely interested in where the line is.) What I think you and I agree upon is that this school board has inadequate and spurious reasons for not buying these particular books.

Melissa Wiley said...

Partially answering one of my own questions (above)—in rereading the article, I see that the school librarian is quoted as saying this is "the first time the board rejected books in the five years she has been librarian." I wonder what prompted the board of trustees to begin vetoing parent/teacher selections this year? Must be someone on the board who thinks he or she knows more about what is "appropriate" for children than the kids' own parents do. And THAT is something I find deeply disturbing indeed.

Roger Sutton said...

Two documents should be guiding this library's selection (and removal) procedures. The first is a selection policy, defining the scope of the collection and who is responsible for making selection (and removal) decisions. When I was a YA librarian in the early eighties, there was a move among the library trustees to take over book selection, a power grab firmly shut down by the library director, who pointed out that, according to the selection policy approved by the trustees, selection was done by the professional librarians hired for that task.

The second document is ALA's Library Bill of Rights. (I don't know how to make links in this comments section, but you can find the LBR at http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/statementspols/statementsif/librarybillrights.htm). Article Two states that "libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval." "Proscribed" is in there precisely to speak to the selection process. NOT purchasing a book "because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval" is just as much censorship as removing a book for those same reasons later.

These two documents are meant to work together. It's not always easy: the many public libraries that profess in their selection policies to purchase all bestselling titles as recorded by the New York Times, for example, came unglued when Madonna's _Sex_ hit the top of the list. Given their stated policies, a decision to not purchase the book was censorship.

It is not censorship whenever "any library decide[s] not to purchase any particular book." Not buying hardcover YA novels, for example, because your patrons don't like the format, is different from not purchasing _Annie on My Mind_ because you (or your board) disapprove of homosexuality, or fear "partisan or doctrinal disapproval" from the community. Not buying *any* textbooks for a public library (a common point in selection policies) is different from not purchasing a particular textbook because it does or does not endorse evolution.

Melissa Wiley said...

Roger, thanks for this—this is a fascinating discussion.