Challenging Books

Education Week recently had an article about challenged books (subscription only).  I have never had any problems with parents disagreeing with reading selections I ask their child to read.  One thing that seems clear to me after reading the article is that it might not be a bad idea for our department to come up with a procedure for challenging books, just in case a parent ever does have objections.  I have to say that my experience of parents of my students at Weber is that they are well-educated, thoughtful, and want their children to be exposed to divergent thinking.  They are open-minded and intelligent.  I could be mistaken, and someone will surely correct this notion if I am, but it seems to be common in Jewish culture to test, to question, to learn, to expose one’s self to other viewpoints.  Thus, I have not found that they concern themselves with challenging book choices; rather, they seem to embrace our curriculum, as they embrace their children’s intellectual freedom.  At least, that is how it seems to me.

The article recounts an incident involving a school library and a concerned parent in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The parent apparently objected to a large number of books, most of which were not described in the article.  The book she seems to be most upset about is It’s Perfectly Natural by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley.  The article seems to imply that the parent, Laurie Taylor, only wanted to prevent her own children from being able to check out the book, as well as the other books on her list; however, a quick glance at Laurie Taylor’s website tells another story — what she really wanted was to remove the books.

I have always felt that it is the parent’s prerogative to decide whether or not their children should read certain books.  My mother often read books she had concerns about, but I can only remember her telling me once that she didn’t want me to read something, and to be fair, it was a romance novel that was too old for me at the time I wanted to read it.  On the other hand, I am vehemently opposed to removing books from a library because one or even the majority of parents feel the books are not appropriate for their own children.  If this is the case, they have every right to ask that the library put some sort of block on the child’s library card.  I do not think this is an unreasonable request at all.  They do not have the right to tell other parents that certain books are not appropriate for the children of those other parents.

We all have different levels of tolerance for what we consider appropriate.  I think Taylor’s labelling of the books as “pornography” is taking things too far, and she was apparently unhappy enough with the school system’s ultimate decision to remove her children from the school system and enroll them in a private Christian school.  In the end, Fayetteville schools determined they needed a procedure in place for parents to challenge material:

Parents must first read the entire book, discuss it with a teacher or librarian, and outline their concerns in a written “request for reconsideration.” If the principal cannot resolve the parent’s concerns, the complaint works its way through the district administration, and could eventually be turned over to a review committee selected by the superintendent.

I think this is fair.  One of the biggest problems I have with many parents who challenge books is that they haven’t read them, except for, of course, passages with which they have some objection.  A perfect example is a local case involving Gwinnett County Public Schools and Laura Mallory, who wanted the Harry Potter books removed from GCPS libraries.  The district decided against Mallory, who is appealing to the Georgia Department of Education.  Mallory has not read the books herself; in her defense against the charge of wanting to ban something she doesn’t really even know much about, Mallory contended:

They’re [the Harry Potter books] really very long and I have four kids. I’ve put a lot of work into what I’ve studied and read. I think it would be hypocritical for me to read all the books, honestly. I don’t agree with what’s in them. I don’t have to read an entire pornographic magazine to know it’s obscene.

I’m not sure what I can add to that, except to say she has proven my point.

The State of Georgia will hear Mallory’s appeal on Tuesday, October 3.