Anti-Bullying and Censorship: That’ll Teach Them

I usually have some idea about the day’s blog post in advance—stop laughing—but this morning, I had nothing in mind except a vague essay on why I should really think about eating breakfast before I’m ensconced in my cubicle and the only options are sugar-free peppermint gum and diet Pepsi.*

But I’ve winged it before—breakfast and blog—so I trusted that a post would present itself sometime during the day.

I really need to stop tempting the universe like this.

Because the first thing I saw when I opened the paper for processing was an article about the Erie Elementary School.

And now I am furious.

Seems that they have an Anti-Bullying Collection at this school, which is a terrific idea.  Except, well, some of the parents don’t think some of this collection is appropriate.

While I’m anti-censorship, I am in favor of age- and level-appropriate materials, so I decided to hold off on my automatic reaction and read on.

The unacceptable materials?

The Family Book by Todd Parr, who has made a name for himself telling everyone that they are okay no matter what and he means you, too.  Because there’s one sentence in there that says that some families have two daddies or two mommies.

One.  Sentence.

And, knowing Mr. Parr’s style, perhaps a thick-lined drawing of two figures in skirts holding hands and two similar figures in pants holding hands.**

God help us.

What’s  even worse, in the eyes of these parents, are that some of the materials in the Anti-Bullying Collection came from . . . wait for it . . . the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network.  There’s no mention of what the materials contain in any of the articles I’ve read, but as we all know, cooties are a big concern at the Elementary School level and there might be a stamp on it somewhere that says Gay or Lesbian on it.  And what if the children ask questions?

Now, this . . . stupidity. . . happens all the time, every damn day, so at this point, I wasn’t so much surprised as saddened.

And then I read on.

A committee was formed to study the matter and the Board held a public session to discuss the matter, which is all good practice.  Usually, with something this ridiculous, the committee recommends that the materials stay and the Board follows the committee recommendations, the vocal few bluster about how the world is traveling at light speed in a handbasket and it all dies down.

In Erie, the Board listened to the vocal few and removed the materials before—or so I’m told—most of the community knew anything had been challenged in the first place.

Funny Animal Captions - Animal Capshunz: Even Lions Have These Moments

But my real problem with this isn’t how certain people are still battling the Big Bad Gay Boogieman with the Shield of Willful Ignorance and the Lance of Woefully Uninformed Panic.

It’s that once again, two very different actions are being confused:

Teaching elementary school children that we must be nice to everyone and not hurt anyone

and

Promoting and endorsing explicit sexual practices to elementary school children

When people mistake the first action for the second—and it’s truly stunning how often it happens—they tend lose all sense of proportion, sweep everything off the shelves before whatever it is they haven’t actually read gets to the children, and end up teaching those kids lessons they may not have intended.

The thing about kids is, they’re constantly looking for confirmation of everything you tell them.  That’s the way they figure out how the world works.

You can tell them, We have to be nice to everyone and they’ll bug you for a complete list:

Differently colored people?   On the list.

People with glasses? Yes

Sick People? Of course

Small people?  Uh-huh.

People who don’t read as well as the rest of the class?  Yep.

People in wheelchairs?  On the list

People who can’t hear or see?  On there.

People who laugh all the time at nothing?  Sure.

People who cry all the time like big babies?  Yes and let’s discuss how you phrased that.

People who love Thomas Hardy’s poetry? Well . . . okay.

The kid who sticks paste in his ears and hums the National Anthem while he picks his nose?  Yes.  You don’t have to eat lunch with that kid, but you have to be nice.  And if someone else isn’t nice to him, you need to tell a grown-up.

People who are mean to me?  Tough one . . . but yeah, they’re on the list, too.

And that’s great.  But another thing about kids, is that they pick up the stuff you don’t say much better than they ever listen to the stuff you do.

You can tell them, We have to be nice to everyone and they’ll notice what you aren’t saying about certain people.***

Two boys holding hands?  Go out and play.

A girl who isn’t interested in boys when everyone else is?  Go out and play.

Kids who have two mommies or two daddies?   Go play.

Anyone who has been tagged, even in an off-handed way, as gay?  That’s not a nice thing to say.  We don’t use that word.

They may not know what a gay or lesbian person is or does—because heaven forfend we given even the simplest elementary-appropriate explanation of, say, two like-gendered people holding hands—but they will get the message that there’s something wrong with these persons, so wrong that it looks like it’s okay not to be nice to them.

And since kids are constantly looking for confirmation, some of ‘em will test it out in the real world by not being nice to the people they think aren’t specifically on the list.

I’m sure all of you have made the connection, but let’s drive it home, shall we?

That testing?  It’s bullying—and people die from it, one way or another.

No damn joke.

But what really steams me about all this idiocy is the response of the school system, which makes me wonder how Anti-Bullying Collections were ever accepted in these schools in the first place:

According to the Superintendent (emphasis mine), “People see a headline and they respond to something. They don’t understand that it’s very important to us to continue teach what we’ve taught and continue to take care of our kids the way we always have . . .  People from 30, 100, or 1,000 miles away don’t really understand the entire story.”

Oh, I think we do, dear.

What’s more, so will your kids.

______________

I found a video news report of this, but it won’t embed. Here’s the link, if you’re interested.

I’m relieved to see that there’s already a petition circulating in the community to get these materials back on the shelves.  I hope that’s enough and if it isn’t, I hope the petitioners step up the fight.

Because this is unacceptable.

________________

*Don’t try this at home kids, my lips just went numb.

**I don’t know for sure, because the library’s copies are all checked out.

***I’d include people of size, but that’s another rant.

Rant of the Wild Librarian: Sign of the Apocalypse

An incredible story has been making the rounds of the American Library Association Young Adult listserv.  I’m not on that particular listserv, but a co-worker sent the story to me, as well as her thoughtful reply.

Ten minutes after I read both, I asked the writer of the original post, Dr. Caroline Thomas, for permission to quote her here:

I teach Young Adult lit to grad students (i.e. adults).  One of required books to read is the Golden Compass.  A group of students are forming an organization to try to force the removal of the book from my required reading lists so other students won’t be forced to read something so offensive to their belief systems. No plans for growth here.  Obviously they have no clue as to the term academic freedom.  I can hardly wait to hear what the provost says.  I know what the dean will say.  The really funny thing is that I am retiring at the end of the summer and won’t teach the class again anyway . . .

It’s difficult to know where to begin with this,* so I’m going to break it down.

Adult grad students . . .

Are trying to protect other adult grad students . . .

From a work of young adult fiction . . .

That they don’t personally agree with . . .

While they’re studying to become librarians.

I’ll pause a moment to let that sink in.

To be strictly honest, I was sorely tempted the first time I read this to be extremely offensive to several belief systems, unless they support sustained swearing with the occasional punctuating blasphemy.

The mildest thing I could have said is that whoever taught these students about Intellectual Freedom must have graded on one hell of a curve.

Let me offer a remedial definition:

“Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause, or movement may be explored.”

—American Library Association

Please for to note these key terms:  every individual, all points of view, without restriction

It also worries me that these grad students don’t seem to have much of a clue about what a librarian does and what a librarian is.

Here are a few points to ponder:

It’s not a public or academic librarian’s place to protect anyone, even children, from ideas.**  Quite the opposite—in fact, it’s far too often exactly the opposite.

This post isn’t about defending The Golden Compass. It wouldn’t matter if I loved it or hated it or if people I respect thought Mr. Pullman was all but drawing devil horns on the polar bears.***

It wouldn’t matter if a book featured sparkly vampires and set back female empowerment a few decades by romanticizing what is essentially an abusive, dangerous, infantilizing, and creepy relationship . . .

But I digress.

This point is, it’s a librarian’s place to determine the genre, subject, reading level, and location of any requested item.  It’s the place of the parent, guardian or adult reader to determine if the book has appropriate content.

Librarians aren’t parents, even in loco.  Librarians aren’t babysitters.

Librarians are librarians.

Patrons ask for an item or information.

We find the item or information.

We give them the item or information.

If someone other than the parent or guardian of that specific patron tries to stop the patron from accessing that item or information, we protect that person’s right to have that item or information made available to them.

The only exception to this is when the distribution or public viewing of the item or information is a violation of city, state, or federal law.  Our computer use policy, for example, follows state laws forbidding the viewing of pornographic images where minors might see them.

Do we fit a collection to its audience?  Of course we do.  I’m not saying that adult-level information should be sitting in a middle school library or in the children’s section of a public library—although I’d argue that comprehension rather than content should be the priority.

I’m saying that the personal beliefs of the librarian should be taken out of the equation.

 The only belief that should affect a librarian while on the job is the belief in  the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.

I don’t have to personally like a book or agree with its premises to hand it over to my patron.  I’ve even recommended books I personally dislike because the patrons wanted something similar to other books I don’t like.

Because that’s my job.

And speaking of jobs, I certainly hope there aren’t many libraries of any type that will welcome librarians who believe in censorship instead of common sense.  And while it’s possible that a few of these offended grad students have already been hired at such a facility and are merely catching up with job requirements, I doubt this is the case for everyone.

The rest might think long and hard about the repercussions of their decisions to take away their fellow students’ ability to think for themselves.

My co-worker described those repercussions beautifully in her reply to Dr. Thomas:

Sorry you are dealing with censorship from your students.  If in your shoes I might take a moment to sincerely thank said students for their attempts at completely biased, wide-reaching censorship.  Censors like these ensure that books like The Golden Compass stay on Banned Book Week lists, appear in national and international news stories in a variety of forums, and keep these books in print.  By attempting to quiet the “offensive” works and steal the rights of others, they are very effectively increasing sales, increasing circs, and keeping these books accessible to others.

Hundreds of us have read your e-mails today, and I don’t think we’re a particularly quiet group.  We talk to others, we e-mail, we blog.  Those of us who work directly with teens sometimes highlight censorship attempts, talk about the books, and use these crimes to spread the word about intellectual freedom.  Perhaps you can remind your students that it is entirely possible that never again in their lives will they have such a “positive” effect on spreading the word about these belief-system-offending books.

I wish you the best.

L.G.

I would also invite these wannabe librarians to ask themselves if they believe they can agree with and follow the ALA Code of Ethics, particularly points two and seven.

If they don’t, I hope they consider another line of work.

To protect other people from learning the wrong things.

__________________________________________

*When my husband asked me about the throbbing vein in my forehead, I found myself trying to say five things at once, at least one of which was in my special Road Rage language.

**I’m leaving private and corporate libraries out of this—they aren’t my area of expertise and bringing in specialty collections and intellectual copyrights would muddy the waters.

***I did like it, if we’re keeping a record, though for that record, I did think it slowed down a little too much in a few places, but that’s a fair trade for Mr. Pullman’s descriptive style.

Ban Censorship!

I wrote this in the early nineties as a college essay.  I think it still works.  The footnotes were added by present day me.

______

You’re reading a book and you don’t like it.

In fact, it disturbed you—the language was stronger than you like, or the characters don’t think like you, or they deal with things you prefer to pretend don’t exist.  Or someone told you it was a metaphor for all the things you were warned about in Sunday School, up to and including Satan worship in all its innocent-looking insidiousness.

So you stop reading and you toss it into the library return box.*

But then you get to thinking.**  That’s a public library, which means other people might see that book on the shelf.  And, not knowing what you know, they might read it. Not everyone has your skills in ferreting out filth—some of them might not have your moral compass or fortitude.  And maybe some of them aren’t even adults.

Young people might pick it up–children might be tempted by the cover alone.

You must protect the children.

So you write a letter about this immediate threat to just about everyone you know who thinks the way you do or cares about the safety of the innocent. And you might exaggerate a little about the content to strengthen your case, sure, but this is war.

And you get a lot of names and petition the library to ban the book from the library.  For the sake of other people’s children.

And the challenged book committee  looks at the book, reads it from cover to cover*** .  .  . and tells you that they’re keeping it.  It’s the responsibility of parents to monitor their own children’s reading habits, if they so choose.

This is unacceptable.

Because if this book stays, then you might have been wrong about it, and you can’t be wrong about something like this, because that would be embarrassing means that some of your core beliefs might be mere subjective opinion, and that can’t be right.  Right?

And instead of taking a long look at those core beliefs or hating the sin but not the sinner or writing an informative review of the book for your newspaper, or even reading the book again to strengthen your argument for the next round. . . you get mad.

You will protect these idiots from themselves.

So you check the book out again—all the copies—and you blacken or rip out all the offensive stuff before you return them.  Or maybe you don’t return them at all.  Maybe you hold yourself a little bonfire, complete with homemade signs and the local news.

Except . . . people want to know what the fuss is all about.  And for some reason they aren’t taking your word for it.  They’re buying the book—they’re reading that ridiculous, satanistic metaphor! In droves!

And then the library calls.

They want to talk to you about the criminal charges you’ll be facing if you don’t pay for replacements of the books you sanitized—plus processing fees.

So you storm over to the library to protest this gross injustice at great length and at top volume.

And in return for all you’ve done for the community, you’re banned from the library.

To protect the rights of other people’s children.

____

*Possibly with your kitchen tongs, which you will then boil in alcohol.   ‘

**Which, frankly, isn’t your strong suit.

***Why did they need to do that?  You didn’t need to do that.

Okay, Once Again: Censorship=Bad

I would like to say a few words about a recent example of censorship.

I would also like to point out that  not saying the particular words that sprang  immediately to mind isn’t an act of censorship, but a personal choice.

There is a difference.

Ellen Hopkins is a young adult author.  Among other things, she writes about drug addiction, bad relationships, teen pregnancy, suicide, hate, incest, rape, bad parenting, and abuse of all kinds.  In other words, she writes about real stuff that happens to real teenagers. 

According to the New York Times bestseller lists, a lot of people think she does it pretty well.

Is Ms. Hopkins in favor of drug addiction, bad relationships, rape, abuse of all kinds, and so on?   I’m going to say no.  Do her stories show these things in a favorable light?  I’m going to say, hell, no.

But then, I’ve read her books.*

I’m going to assume that the middle school librarian who allegedly decided that it was inappropriate for Ms. Hopkins to come to the  Humble ISD Libraries’ Teen Lit Festival hasn’t read them. 

I’m assuming that the handful of parents who were swayed by the alleged opinions of  this librarian and protested Ms. Hopkins’ invitation haven’t read them. 

I don’t have to assume that the superintendent of the school system, who revoked Ms. Hopkins invitation to the event solely on the advice and complaints of the Moral Minority, is far too busy to read them—he said so.

I have three questions for these people:

a)  Why are you against having your teenagers talk to someone whose work teaches the consequences of drug abuse, the difficulties of teen pregnancy, and that suicide is not the answer?

b) At which point did you mistake keeping children in ignorance for education? 

c) Do you really think you have the right to tell other people’s children what they can’t read?  Please, please try it with mine.

And a few more for the ‘librarian’ who allegedly started all this:

You do know that the service paradigm for librarians shifted, oh, about fifty years ago, right? Ever hear about the ALA Code of Ethics?   What kind of librarian are you?

Never mind.  I already know.

___

* Not all of them.  I’m still on the library waiting list for Tricks and Burned.  And I made the personal choice not to read Glass when it came out—Crank nearly did me in.  I may change my mind later, but it’s my mind to change.