Reflections on Library Censorship

5. Discuss the issues surrounding intellectual freedom, censorship, selection, and in loco parentis in school libraries.  Do not restrict your comments to print format only, and consider how long standing programs (such as AR, or highly restrictive filtering) may play a role in intellectual freedom issues.   How will you deal with these issues? 

Due Oct. 31

My views are somewhat transparent judging from what I named this file: censorship.

During my career as a science teacher, I taught reproductive biology as well as teaching Health Education in a separate class. I taught these classes to high school students and I tried not to be squeamish. Sometimes students would try to embarrass me or gross me out by asking a certain kind of  question, but pretty soon I had heard them all. I taught for 3 years at a very progressive private high school in Berkeley where I continued a tradition of having a young lady come from Good Vibrations, a women owned co-op, to teach a class on masturbation, the facts and fallacies, including bringing various “toys.” The response from the parents was generally, “Thank goodness you are willing to teach this.” And by extension, “Better you, than me.”

I believe that knowledge is power. If kids have questions, they should have the print resources handy to answer their questions in an age appropriate manner. I have also had a panel of speakers come to my Health class to talk about coming out, being gay, etc. I only ever had one parent who forbade his kid to hear “such sick stuff.” The panel was made up of college aged alums from the high school, moderated by a local science teacher and it was very well presented. I think it made lots of kids think about how they may treat other kids of perceived different preferences.

I liked the idea another student had earlier in the semester. He said that if a parent came into the library and questioned why we had a particular book available to young people he would give them a form to fill out. They had to read the book and then address specifically what they didn’t like about it. So many people who complain have never opened the book and have no idea what they are complaining about.

“A major problem for school library media specialist has been the necessity to try to filter information fom the Internet, thus limiting access to information (Woolls: 128). I personally am against filtering on the computer at the school library. “Many vendors of filtering programs neglect to tell their prospective purchasers by whom and how the filter was created” (Woolls: 128-129). What are the inherent biases when people select words or phrases to filter access to.  It is incredibly frustrating to try to research a project on breast cancer or testicular cancer, which impacts mostly young men in their early 20’s when you can’t search on the local words. Kids are going to find their way around the filters. I think the best thing is to set out your expectations clearly, and have the students sign a “use contract.” Have the computers set up so that you can cruise around and easily see the screens. One school I taught at had mirrors above them. If you find a student disobeying the use contract, they are banned from using the school computers for a certain amount of time. The second offense brings longer time off the computer and you call their parent(s) in for a meeting (one of the scariest things you can hang over a high school kid’s head).

“School library media specialist assume a leadership role in promoting the principles of intellectual freedom within the school by providing resources and services that create and sustain an atmosphere of free inquiry…fostered by educating students in the use of critical thinking skills to empower them to pursue free inquiry responsibly and independently. Through resources, programming, , and educational processes, students and teachers experience the free and robust debate characteristic of a democratic society” (AASL:53).We are very fortunate to live in a society where information is supposed to be free available. It is our role as librarians to keep that accessibility going.

AASL.(2009). Empowering Learners. Chicago: American Association of School Librarians.

Woolls, B. (2008).The School Library Media Manager. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.


About KLevenson

I am Teacher Librarian at Piedmont High School in the San Francisco East Bay. I am a part time reference Librarian I for the San Francisco Public Library. I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State and a Teacher Librarian credential in addition to my teaching credential in Science. My first MA was from Harvard in Archaeology. My students teach me something new every time I am with them!
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