Book selection, censorship, and challenges
It is essential for people to access, gather, analyze, evaluate, and use information, in all forms of media, to express cultural, personal, social, political, environmental, and aesthetic values and ideas to make good decisions, not only to survive, but to create meaningful productive lives.
Decisions to know: how to seek and select information, when information is valid and appropriate, when to inquire and express their judgments, when to respect theirs and others views, when to assert their right of assertion, what to appreciate, how to set and achieve appropriate goals, and how to be responsible citizens in a liberal democracy.
If they are not able to control their use of information, then more powerful people will control the information they receive to reign over them. Those who control information control the power to know. Control by limiting what is knowable and by not knowing alternatives and limiting the right to make different decisions.
Historically, people considered censorship as removing or limiting information. However, with the onset of viral deception (fake news) and electronic dispersal (bots) of information and misinformation, censorship must now consider both the limiting of information or providing too little information as well as providing vast amounts of misinformation.
Therefore, the ability to censor viral misinformation and deception, that threatens security, becomes as important as the ability to not censor ideas in books, movies, news, and art that are needed to make good moral decisions that do not threaten our security, but enrich our lives and maintain our survival.
Teachers, are bound to have someone challenge a book or materials in their classroom. In fact some people believe if you don't have someone challenge a book every once in a while, then you are not doing your job in selecting a good variety of quality literature.
However, a teacher needs to understand the community in which they teach and recognize that even the most liberal of communities has limits on what they believe children and adolescents should be looking at or reading. A very important thing to consider along side the controversial issue a story might create is the socially redeeming qualities or themes the story has. For example - A Bridge to Terabithia. Includes some words that some parents would or have complained about. However, I and others have been able to convince most parents and students the use of such words were appropriate or at least plausible within the context of the story.
A good source for such related ideas can be found on the NCTE (The National Council of Teachers of English website. For example the following excerpt from this site for the book Bridge to Terabithia illustrates this point.
"Bridge to Terabithia is an excellent novel for boys and girls ages nine to twelve because it deals with real life situations and problems that many children in the nine to twelve age group find difficult to cope with. Paterson is praised by many critics for creating a realistic boy-girl friendship, something "so curiously unsung in literature" Christian Science Monitor (1978, p. B2.) One of the stronger subjects Paterson presents in Bridge to Terabithia is death. Yet Paterson presents death in a very sensitive manner that should not prove controversial to the readers. Another character briefly introduces the subject of child abuse and again Paterson presents this issue in a very knowledgeable and realistic format that the young adult reader would not find objectionable."
I used this book, as a read aloud, with my students years ago. In the class was one girl that commented on the language used by Jess when he was grieving over the lose of Leslie. I asked her if she would be upset if she lost a friend; and while she might not say those words, could she imagine others might, or at least think them.
When she agreed, I suggested the author chose those words for emphasis; and asked her how she might suggest another way to create a strong emphasis for the emotions the author was trying to communicate. Her response was to look me in the eye, smile, say "Oh", nod agreement, and add, "Yeah, I can see that." and walk away smiling. I kind of expected a phone call after that, since that was often the pattern with this particular family, but it never came. Not for that incident.
We need to be careful that we honor parent's requests, but at the same time we can't let a minority group change what other parents expect their children to experience in school.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond is another book that has been removed from book lists by assertive parents because of content dealing with witchcraft and because the main character is headstrong and not respectful of adults. Fortunately, I never had complaints about it when I read it aloud. I mention it because, just the other day, when I was at the Wayne Rec. Center walking in circles, I saw a girl glued to a copy, from the Wayne Middle School, sitting on the bleachers reading the whole time I was walking. Others, whom she usually played pickup games of basketball with, couldn't convince her to stop reading and play ball. A great book is timeless; and thankfully for her it hasn't been censored in her school.
A selection checklist can be useful to guide decision making of materials.
Selection checklist to evaluation a piece of literature or story
|Provides language enrichment|
|Use of natural dialog|
|Empowers the learner|
|Provides individual needs|
|Includes thoughtful and sensitive responses to conflict|
|Significant theme for the audience|
|Plausability of plot|
|Plot is adequately supported|
|Good information to support the story|
|Good use of figurative language|
|Meaningful use of language|
|Logical character interactions|
|Story unfolds from the global to specific|
|Simple enough for students to read and comprehend individually|
|Worth the investment of time|
As teachers, we need to remember that we need to remain calm when something that is in our classroom is challenged. A simple conference with the challenger may solve the problem. However, sometimes it is not this simple. An important thing to remember is to deal with only one book at a time. This will limit any challenge and make it more controllable. There are three guidelines that can be remembered when book challenges are made:
- materials selection policy,
- grievance procedure, and
- steps to reduce emotional tension.
A selection policy helps by adding a layer of rules and involvement of others so that when books are chosen, the selection is made under the rules and guidelines and involve a group of people, usually a selection committee that makes or agrees to recommendations of a selection. It is always comforting to have others in agreement with your decision whether there will be others who do or do not.
A grievance procedure is the process an individual must use if he or she wants to formally challenge the use or availability of a book. It must always include a signature and explanation for the action being requested. A designated committee will then consider the complaint. A final decision is then made by the school or library. If the decision is not agreeable, the individual who complained may choose to seek legal counsel and request a hearing in court.
Last, the teacher and other representatives for the school or library need to continually strive to keep all parties from becoming emotional. This can be done by first listening to the person who has the complaint and attempt to resolve it at an informal level. It is sometimes helpful to describe the approval process used for the selection with reference to the required policy and procedures.
One benefit of the policy and procedure for selection of books and complaints about books is to protect both parties. By calmly explaining that no decision can be made without going through proper channels, or to change previous decisions to use or not use certain titles is not a personal decision, but requires certain rules or procedures be followed. Such statements made matter of fact can reduce emotional and biased decisions. Emotional responses can also be reduced when additional people are brought into the process so that additional ears and minds can listen and respond better to both parties to keep everyone calm and honest. If nothing can be resolved informally, then the person who is challenging the book can be told they will need to complete the appropriate forms to make a formal request to challenge a specific book.
Literature that people have attempted to control has included: books with profanity, unhappy endings, drug use, stereotypes, use of politically incorrect language, religious related ideas, and questionable images. Sometimes literature is questioned with a narrow focus say on the use a particular word one should enlarge the focus and look at the whole book. How does the use of a certain word fit with the overall story. Is it used for a redeemable reason? If the book has a sad ending, are there more books in the library with happy endings? Often more choice is a better option, rather than less choice. If we want students to learn how to make good choice, then we need to provide them with real world choices to learn how to make them.
While it may not seem reasonable there could be agreement with the challenger. It is most certainly likely they believe the type of media they are challenging (book, video, or other) has extreme power. They must believe in this power, since the are concerned the material will negatively change a person’s mind.
It seems logical to believe if books, or media, have a power to change and save people, then they also have the power to fail or destroy them. Therefore, exposing people to ideas, they might not encounter on their own, brings a fear of negative indoctrination.
Indoctrination has four main components: intent, content, method, and outcome, which is imposed on a learner without their critical evaluation. A piece of literature may be considered as an author's intent to indoctrinate a reader or viewer with information, however, that is not the intent of public education or public school teachers. For them, each piece of literature is but content. Content, to share with the intent of presenting different ideas or perspectives among many. With a method to provide comprehensive and diverse information to study to make informed decisions with critical thinking to enable students to achieve the tools necessary to be citizens in a democracy that cares for and protects all its citizens. Diverse ideas and opportunities matter and those who act to limit them, hurt people. An act, which must be considered a problem, that needs to be dealt with, not ignored.
Description of the material
Date of publication
Type of media (printed book, video, magazine, pamphlet, instructional material, ...)
Person making the request
Address of building(s) where material is/are used
If request is supported by a group or organization, include the following information.
Name of group
Address of group
Group resolution or other action by the group. Describe kind of action and attach supporting minutes or other exhibits.
Describe what was reviewed. (pages, minutes in video, or other description)
Describe specifically what part you object, where it is located, why you object, how it might be harmful to students, and what value it might have to students.
If there is support from other experts in a field related to the objectionable media, include their objection and rationale.
If this material is removed, then what other material would you recommend to replace it that would be better for the intended purpose.
Do you want to present your request in person. Yes No. If yes, you will be contacted at the provided location with a date and time.
- Slave Bible. Passages were omitted related to freedom, slave uprising, and rebellion like: Moses exodus from Egypt. And emphasis put on serving. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Luke 22:27 Source
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. by Mark Twain
- Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. by Anne Frank
- Arabian Nights
- The Call of the Wild. by Jack London
- The Grapes of Wrath. by John Steinbeck
- Gulliver's Travels. by Jonathan Swift
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. by Maya Angelou
- James and the Giant Peach. by Roald Dahl
- A Light in the Attic. by Shel Silverstein
- Of Mice and Men. by John Steinbeck
- The Scarlet Letter. by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- To Kill a Mockingbird. by Harper Lee
- Uncle Tom's Cabin. by Harriet Beecher Stowe
- A Wrinkle in Time. by Madeleine L'Engle