From a personal standpoint, this column is one of the most challenging for me to write as my thoughts on the topic are complicated.  The article itself is prompted by the conflict of ideals within our country and comments directed to the district during recent public forums.  

The latest of these comments concerned sexually explicit excerpts from novels found in the Kennedy Secondary School media center and ALC library.  The descriptions were graphic and would be considered offensive by many parents.  I was uncomfortable listening to the reading of the passages which means that I would have been uncomfortable having my own children read the passages as well.  But my opinion needn’t be the opinion of everyone else.  The First Amendment could be considered the single most protective measure of our democracy and our freedoms.  It is best known for protecting our rights to free speech and freedom of expression.  

What is the school’s role in screening material and determining its appropriateness or inappropriateness?  Most parents are likely to expect schools to screen out materials whose content may be too mature in nature for students.  That’s a fair expectation.  Parents send their children to school with the understanding that we will provide a safe and largely wholesome environment.  We accept that responsibility.

We also accept a responsibility to allow students access to diverse perspectives and thoughts.  Our goal is to develop students with strong critical thinking skills.  We don’t tell them what to believe.  We provide students with the opportunity to create a foundation of knowledge, teach them analytical skills and allow them to develop their own ideologies based on their personal life experiences, values and perspectives.  The district’s goal is to propagate free thinkers.  

Regarding the literature referenced at the last board meeting, I can understand why some parents would find components objectionable.  The district has a policy (630) titled District Library Media Center Materials Selection.  There are several criteria that guide the selection of materials:

  1.  Absence of cultural, racial or sexual bias; usefulness of content; quality, accuracy, objectivity, and currency of information; organization & presentation of content; potential user appeal; needs of the student.
  2. Provision of a wide range of material on all levels of difficulty, with a diversity of appeal and the presentation of different points of view.   

To clarify more specifically the last criterion, some school library media centers are concerned with generating understanding of American freedoms with the presentation of these freedoms through the development of informed and responsible citizens.  It shall be the responsibility of the school building media generalist of District #544 to:

  1. Provide materials that will enrich and support the curriculum, taking into consideration the varied interests, abilities and maturity levels of the pupils served; 
  2. Provide materials that will stimulate growth in factual knowledge, aesthetic values and ethical standards;  
  3. Provide a background of information which will enable pupils to make intelligent judgments in their daily lives;
  4. Provide materials on opposing sides of controversial issues so that young citizens may develop and practice critical reading, viewing and thinking;
  5. Provide materials representative of the many religious, ethnic and cultural groups and their contributions to our society;
  6. Provide materials that present the many and varied aspects of our culture and society including some aspects that may be considered to be unsavory;
  7. Judge the value and impact of any work as a whole, taking into account the author's (producer’s) intent rather than individual words, phrases, visuals, pictures or incidents out of which the work is composed.  

Complaints about any library media center materials are to be handled as follows:

  1. The school subscribes in principle to the Library Bill of Rights and the School Library Bill of Rights.
  2. Any complainant must fill out the Citizen’s Request for Reconsideration of Media Center Materials and submit it to the school principal.
  3. The challenged material shall be made unavailable to the students until there is a reevaluation and decision made as to whether it is, or is not, to be kept on the shelves.
  4. Within five school days of receiving the complaint, the principal will appoint a committee consisting of three faculty members, the media generalist, three parents (members of a parent organization) and the principal to reevaluate the material.
    1. After the appointment of the committee, the evaluation and recommendation shall be sent to the building principal within 30 school days.
    2. The building principal will notify the person making the complaint as soon as possible of the committee’s recommendation. If so desired by the complainant, a conference could be set up between the complainant, the media generalist and principal.
    3. If the complainant is dissatisfied with the decision they may appeal, in writing, to have the school superintendent review the recommendation of the committee.
    4. If either party is not satisfied with the recommendation by the superintendent they can appeal to the School Board.
    5. The dissatisfied party will notify the superintendent in writing that he or she would like to have the School Board review the committee’s recommendation.

The form is simple and straightforward to complete.  

As a district, we will be re-evaluating our selection and review process.  The new selection process may screen out some books if they are determined to be harmful to our students.   Our new protocols will also involve putting steps in place that would flag books with mature content.  Those books would require parental permission before a child would be allowed to check the book out.  

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that this column is a challenging one for me.  That’s because I value my liberty - my freedom to choose.  It is the fundamental hallmark of our great country.  I am sensitive to the question, “who gets to decide what is acceptable for everyone else?”

This article is not intended to defend every publication.  There are books that are offensive to me just as other publications may be as or more offensive to someone else.  I read a book in high school titled,1984, by George Orwell.  The book portrayed a dystopian society driven by the use of doublethink.  Doublethink is the acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.  1984 depicts a society where everyone is required to conform and, in that process, they lose their individual identity.  From George Orwell, “Free speech is unthinkable.  All other kinds of freedom are permitted.  You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator; but you are not free to think for yourself.”  1984 is worth a read, but get it while you can.  The novel is on a list of books that should be banned in some parts of the United States.