As If! Authors Support Intellectual Freedom
By John Coy
Recently, I had a disheartening and eye-opening experience. I appeared at a suburban Minneapolis bookstore for the last half of a discussion of my young adult novel BOX OUT. The teachers and librarians assembled spoke positively about the book and liked Liam Bergstrom, the main character, who’s brought up to the high school varsity and encounters a coach who is leading team prayer.
Days later, however, I received an email from someone who had been there for the whole discussion. She said that although she didn’t enjoy sports, she really liked BOX OUT. She thought it would be a great book for eighth and ninth graders and was sad to hear media specialists say that they could not put it on their middle school library shelves because of the mention of lesbianism.
Nobody had hinted at this to me, so I emailed some of the other participants to find out what had happened. In true “Minnesota Nice” fashion, the teachers and librarians had decided not to say anything negative while I was present in order to avoid confrontation. And yes, a number of public school media specialists said they would not¬–and COULD NOT–put the book on their middle school libraries because of the presence of a lesbian character in a story about contemporary high school students. The consensus among them was that, “Someone might object and it’s not worth it to fight with parents.”
In talking with more people in the field, I’ve discovered that for many middle school media specialists the inclusion of a gay or lesbian character is enough to keep a book out of their library. “Those are the books the public library can put on their shelves,” one librarian said. Vicki Palmquist of Children’s Literature Network said, “Media specialists are losing their jobs right and left and in between. They aren’t going to rock their own boat.”
So here are three questions for you:
Have you encountered this ban on books with lesbian and gay characters in middle school libraries?
What message do we send students when one group’s existence is not allowed in the books in these libraries?
And what should we do about it?
Does Sarah Palin believe in the First Amendment?
From The New York Times:
"Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.
Anne Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. 'They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,' Ms. Kilkenny said.
The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to 'resist all efforts at censorship,' Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.
In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were 'rhetorical.'"
(Full article at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/03/us/politics/03wasilla.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=palin%20library%20censor&st=cse&oref=slogin
And from The Boston Herald:
"Palin told the Daily News back then the letters were just a test of loyalty as she took on the mayor’s job, which she’d won from three-term mayor John Stein in a hard-fought election."
The reports surfacing online and in print media about Governor Sarah Palin’s actions while acting as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, 12 years ago led me to consider other, possibly pertinent revelations about the new Republican Party vice presidential candidate. For instance, she is a strong supporter of abstinence-only education and is opposed to comprehensive sex education in schools, despite numerous studies proving the ineffectiveness of the former compared with the latter. As Vice President of the U.S., would Ms. Palin work not only to continue to block funding for comprehensive sex education programs, as our current administration does, but also attempt to remove sex education literature from public schools and libraries?
We don’t know which books Ms. Palin had in mind when she asked Ms. Emmons to consider removing some from Wasilla’s library. We do know, however, that Ms. Palin doesn’t believe global warming is the result of human activity. Would she try to have books on global warming purged from our nation’s libraries?
In her speech on September 3rd at the Republican National Convention, Ms. Palin belittled Senator Obama’s work as a community organizer in South Chicago. Would she then, if she becomes our nation’s V.P., attempt to remove from all libraries any tomes that describe the historic movements that have changed our world—for the better, I think she’d agree—movements that owe their roots, their momentum, and much of their ultimate success to community organizing efforts? I’m talking about the labor movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement, and the one that allows Ms. Palin to be where she is today, the women’s movement, with suffrage at the top of its agenda.
Ms. Palin said she attempted to fire Ms. Emmons to test the librarian’s loyalty—to Ms. Palin, I presume. If Ms. Palin becomes our next presidential Vice President, I hope that in the realm of public libraries and their collections, she remembers where her own loyalties should lie: with our Constitution’s First Amendment, and with the policies and guidelines of the American Library Association.
posted by Jordan Sonnenblick
A new Indiana law meant to target "adult" stores has booksellers up in arms -- and rightly so. The law, according to Indystar.com, "requires businesses that sell sexually explicit material to pay a $250 fee and register with the secretary of state, which would then pass the information to municipal or county officials so they can monitor the businesses for potential violations of local ordinances."
Here are links to two articles that explain the issue way better than I could:http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080325/NEWS/80325063http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6544559.html?nid=2286&source=title&rid=1113427106
The whole thing is just so . . . Orwellian. Here at AS IF!, we are accustomed to individuals taking potshots at free expression, but usually the laws are on the side of free speech. When the government itself is the censoring agent, I get scared.
Aside from the blatant constitutional problem in this case, there's another angle. Independent bookstores are hugely important to the health of America's intellectual and literary life, and existing booksellers are already closing faster than new ones open. A $250 licensing fee for new stores (not to mention the ominous spectre of Big Brother) might just be enough to stop potential entrepreneurs from opening bookstores in Indiana.
- Posted by Jordan Sonnenblick
Perry Township, IN teacher Connie Heermann was suspended for allowing her high school students to read FREEDOM WRITERS DIARY
. The book is a collection of essays from high school students who give candid looks at their lives, fears and hopes. It deals with violence, homelessness, racism, abuse and other topics that this group of urban California students lived with.
The school board had originally taken a motion to severe her contract with the school, but later changed it to an unpaid suspension until the end of the 2008 -2009 school year. Heermann, who has taught for 27-years, was charged with insubordination. Her supervisor was unhappy with the language and content in the book and asked her to stop using it in the classroom, even though her students had signed permission slips.
At an earlier public hearing, Heermann had many supporters, including Californian Erin Gruwell who's students wrote the FREEDOM WRITERS DIARY.
For a teacher to punished for encouraging her students to read about real-life issues is a scary thought. What we at AF IF! would like to know is, was it really insubordination at issue or the book itself?
For more information, check out these links:http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008803250366http://www.wthr.com/Global/story.asp?S=8060931&nav=9Tai
Posted by Lisa Yee
A Guest Blog by Jo Whittemore
A complaint by a Vancouver resident has led to the discontinuation of the Scholastic book club program in Vancouver schools. Yet, the complaint wasn’t with the program itself, but one of the books carried in the Scholastic catalog: The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman.
The legal counsel for the school district says the objection to the book’s perceived anti-Christian theme raised a “whole other different issue.” This issue is that “district policy prohibits (the schools) from promoting for-profit businesses.”
What about the candy bars or wrapping paper that kids sell to go on field trips to museums? Those fundraising companies get a cut of the profits. Do the Vancouver schools plan on discontinuing those educational ventures as well? Or will they wait until someone objects to the museum’s History of Evolution display and then use the “district’s policy” as an excuse to appease one narrow mind?
Because that’s what I believe it comes down to. One person’s opinion on one book is shaping the future of so many others.
The responsibility of running the Scholastic sales in Vancouver has been passed to the parent teacher associations, but this only brings to light the economic disparity between various schools. Some have parents who can afford to help out, while others lack the support necessary to keep the program going. Still other schools are posting sales on their campus websites, but many students come from lower-income families who don’t have credit cards or easy access to the Internet.
Parents are frustrated by the removal of the Scholastic book club program, and rightly so. It can be difficult to get a child to read, but when they see the colorful catalogs and hear their classmates discussing their favorite picks, they get excited and place an order, too. That’s how some readers come to be; they are nurtured in a school environment.
This is made even more complicated when there are no books in the classroom to read, since several schools stock their classrooms with free books they’ve earned from Scholastic book club sales. If you want to talk about a butterfly effect, this is it.
So, who benefits from taking reading opportunities from our students and revenue opportunities from our schools? No one.
Please, Vancouver school district. Surely, in your policy you can make a loophole for literacy.
Way back on September 12 on this blog, there was an entry about a challenge to Ellen Wittlinger's excellent novel, SANDPIPER, in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. Well, the results are in. The Tuscaloosa County school board has spoken, albeit out of both sides of its mouth.
You can read the news article here: http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20071211/NEWS/712110305/1007
In many ways, this challenge is typical of those we see all the time here at AS IF! The atypical part is that an amazing Alabama education professor named Lisa Scherff alerted us, the author, and the media, and also made sure that lots of supporters of intellectual freedom showed up at the school board's meetings. Clearly, the board would gladly have buried this case, but that's much harder to do when America is watching. Nicely done, Lisa!
Here is the most important thing about this decision, though: it shows you how strongly the case law favors keeping challenged books IN school libraries. Reading the article, it is abundantly clear that the school board president would have LOVED to make SANDPIPER disappear -- but the district's legal counsel advised the board that the _UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT_ has very clearly said, "No way, Jose!"
So there you have it: if you are trying to get a young adult book removed from a school library due to concerns over "mature content", you are violating the First Amendment rights of the school's students.
Which we've been saying all along.
posted by Jordan Sonnenblick
Gee, I thought everything was happening south of the Canadian border, eh? But no it's happening up here, too. Whatever you Americans do, we can do better. : ) First up, the banning/pulling from shelves/or hiding on the back shelf of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials
. Read about it here: CBC News Story
Or Here: Toronto Star News Story
. Since I've waxed on about the reasons why this shouldn't be banned/pulled from the shelves previously, I won't bore you all again.
And now for something completely...well the same. Here's a dastardly article by Susan Juby in The Globe and Mail about banning books: Click right here, eh?
This modest proposal suggests iris scanning, wire cages and fingerprinting to prevent children from reading some of the salacious materials available in libraries.
Happy Grey Cup celebrations, fellow Canucks (Go Riders). Happy Thanksgiving to all of you down south. And everyone else around the world, just have a happy day. Read a book. It won't hurt you.*
*Unless it's Harry Potter VI and you drop it on your foot.
I thought that the book bannings were over for the season, that Christmas was about to raise its red capped head and people would all be happy and joyous and, well, Christmassy. One big BAH HUMBUG was delivered to the writing world in Medford. Just read this article in the Burlington County Times. The Burn Journals,
is a non-fiction book by Brent Runyon which relates his experiences as a suicidal 14-year-old who set himself on fire. No holds barred. A true tale told well which received a starred review from Booklist. But from John Biesz, a parent from Medford, the review was a bit more caustic: "There should be a warning on the book that says it's a piece of garbage." Now, parents are supposed to have opinions. Everyone should have an opinion! What's completely ridiculous about this story is that the school actually sent the book home with a permission slip--they did everything they could to prevent controversy and still this parent is upset and feels "This stuff should never make it into our schools." It would be terrible if people learned about the reality of being a mixed-up teen, wouldn't it? They might learn empathy or maybe understanding. Biesz wants the book removed from the school. I think there are only two words that can sum that up: Bah humbug!
A Texas teacher could face criminal charges for handing a book to a student that her parents deemed inappropriate for a 9th grader.
The book, Cormic McCarthy's CHILD OF GOD, is described this way on amazon.com . . . "In this taut, chilling novel, Lester Ballard--a violent, dispossessed man falsely accused of rape--haunts the hill country of East Tennessee when he is released from jail. While telling his story, Cormac McCarthy depicts the most sordid aspects of life with dignity, humor, and characteristic lyrical brilliance."
Texas Penal Code 43.24 prohibits selling, distributing or displaying harmful material to a minor. Since it is alleged that the teacher placed the "harmful material" in the hands of a student, he may be subject to a Class A misdemeanor, which under Texas law is punishable by up to one year in county jail and/or a fine up to $4,000.
What is happening? Can this be for real? It was not required reading, yet the teacher could get jail time?
What do you think about this?
For the complete story, as reported by the Abilene Online ReporterNews, click here
Oh, and ever since the hoopla, the book has been sold out in stores all over town.