Kids and the Right to Read

May 20, 2014 (0 Comments)

Posted by: ASLC

I was dismayed to read about the recent situation in Idaho, where parents called the police about students handing out banned books.

The backstory: apparently a group of parents in Meridian School District convinced administrators to ban Sherman Alexie's novel Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the Grade 10 curriculum, as they felt the book contained inappropriate language and sexual activity. Some students didn’t agree with the decision, and launched a petition. They collected over 350 student signatures, but the ban was upheld. The students response: a protest, where they distributed free copies of Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to those who had signed the petition. That's when parents called the police.

As a senior high school teacher-librarian, I take the principles of intellectual freedom seriously, and I fully stand behind the right of students to freely choose their reading material. At my school, we work hard to build a library collection that gives our school community access to a broad spectrum of ideas, and a diversity of viewpoints. We select our resources based on their individual strengths, and never make decisions about including or excluding a book on the basis of controversial content, language or topic. Not everyone will agree with every one of our selections, but we hope every reader will find a book that resonates with them.

Does this mean I don’t respect the right of parents to be involved in shaping the moral and intellectual development of their children? Not at all. I just don’t think banning books is the route to take. Reading is central to kids’ intellectual, emotional and moral growth. Within the pages of books, children find a safe space to explore ideas, scenarios and circumstances. Reading, for young people, is part of the process of becoming – and that process demands the right of kids to freely define their choices, and explore the themes that interest or concern them.

That’s not to say parents shouldn’t be involved in their children’s reading. What better way to start authentic conversations about important ideas or moral choices than by discussing a book? Parents should be paying attention to what their kids are reading, and they should be asking questions. Equally important, they need to listen carefully to the answers their questions prompt. Meaningful, respectful conversation helps to build moral, ethical citizens; banning books doesn’t.

Nancy Prentice is the teacher-librarian at Western Canada High School in Calgary, Alberta.

 


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