Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Censorship of Books in School Libraries

One favorite target of assault on intellectual freedom is public schools, specifically in the library. Parents and community members frequently challenge the inclusion of a material in the library collection based on their content. Reasons given for banning a book include; sexual content, portrayal homosexuals, objectionable language and “attacks” on Christianity or other religions. Since most of the audience for this blog would naturally fall on the side of supporting intellectual freedom rather than book banning, I think it is important to realize just how real of an issues this is. Below is a link to a recent news article from WorlNetDailly, an online conservative news source that shows how the complaint of an angry parent can trigger a swift reaction. The book in question is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky. Just from the language in the title you can tell that the publishers are not happy that the teacher kept that job after handing out “pornography” to students.

Perversion 101: Kids taught 'gay' sex, rape, bestialityHigh school teacher keeps job after handing out pornographic 'banned book'

While other recent blogs will discuss the role of the First Amendment in its protection of Intellectual Freedom in public libraries, the school library may seem like a special case because it is part of a larger institution. However, the issue of censorship in school library collections was addressed in Supreme Court Case BOARD OF EDUCATION v. PICO, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), in which students objected to the School Board removing books they found objectionable. The ruling was in favor of the students, upholding their First Amendment Rights. It was concluded that:
“The First Amendment imposes limitations upon a local school board's exercise of its discretion to remove books from high school and junior high school libraries…While petitioners might rightfully claim absolute discretion in matters of curriculum by reliance upon their duty to inculcate community values in schools, petitioners' reliance upon that duty is misplaced, where they attempt to extend their claim of absolute discretion beyond the compulsory environment of the classroom into the school library and the regime of voluntary inquiry that there holds sway.”
It is clear that school libraries are under the same obligations to uphold the First Amendment. Students and teachers do not give up their right to express themselves when they come to school, and one of those rights is to read what they want.

If your library or one near you is being asked to ban a book, here are some resources to prepare yourself:
First Amendment First-Aid Kit, Random House Publishers
Book Censorship Toolkit, National Coalition Against Censorship

Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (Supreme Court 1982).
Doyle, R. P. (2008). Books Challenged or Banned in 2007-2008. Retrieved from
Schilling, C. (2008). Perversion 101: Kids taught 'gay' sex, rape, bestiality. WorldNetDaily. from

Discussion Questions:
What would you do if your child came home with a book that you found offensive?
Should school libraries maintain a "by parent permission only" shelf?

1 comment:

Tom Trupiano said...

Let me respond to the last discussion question first by saying that ALL books should be "by parent permission" but not by putting questionable books on a special shelf. The parental permission should be inherent in the job of being a parent. If your child comes home with a book you are not comfortable with, you should feel free to tell your child you do not want them to read it. That is your job and your right as a parent. We could argue all day about whether that is a very effective parental strategy but I will defend the right of a parent to have a voice in what their children read (just as I would monitor what they watch on TV). Going to the school and asking that NO other children be allowed to read the book is where parents cross a line between parenting and censorship.

As a teacher and a parent, I realize it is not beyond the realm of possibility that, one day, one of my children may bring home a book that I am not thrilled with the prospect of them reading. I cannot, however, think of a single book in our elementary or middle school libraries that would be so offensive to me that I would ask it be removed from the shelves. If it were a book my child selected, I would talk to them about why they want to read it before making a decision how to proceed. If it were a book assigned by a teacher and I felt strongly enough about it, I would simply contact the teacher, explain my concerns, and, if I still felt strongly, ask if there were an alternate assignment that we could do in lieu of the book.