Editor’s note: This column was updated April 17 to correct information that suggested one of the books mentioned was available in a Springfield school library. It was confused with a non-controversial book with the same title.
I’ve heard lots of buzz about local parents concerned about certain books in public schools and libraries — and once I started researching, I could see why parents are in an uproar.
I called a friend who works in the Springfield Public Schools and asked if she thinks certain books in the library are a need for concern. At her school, she’s observed that the librarian has total discretion on what books are purchased for the library. Although this authority may not be the policy in every school, apparently the principal at this school gives autonomy to the librarian. My friend stated that in her opinion, this elementary library contains several alarmingly graphic and intense murder stories, which happen to be on the suggested–to-read table. She explained that the librarian at this particular school is into “murder” stories. Hmm!
At our state Capitol, concern about literature available to children and youth in schools and libraries has fueled efforts for legislation and administrative rules. Over the past year in Missouri, Senate Bill 775 included provisions to protect children from “sexually explicit materials.” State Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, a sexual assault survivor, sponsored the bill, which received bipartisan support. The bill included language from an amendment by State Sen. Rick Brattin aimed at protecting students from pornographic materials in schools.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft proposed a new rule to allow the State of Missouri to withhold and/or restrict funding to libraries that do not fully comply. The following are two major points in this rule that are protecting minors:
- The library has or will adopt a written, publicly-accessible policy allowing any minor’s parent or guardian to determine what materials and access will be available to a minor, and no person employed by or acting on behalf of the library shall knowingly grant access to any minor any material in any form not approved by the minor’s parent or guardian;
- No age-inappropriate materials in any form, as defined in the library’s collection development policy, shall be knowingly displayed in the library in areas designated by the library as containing materials predominantly for minors;
Gender-related topics have parents concerned
Following are just a few of the gender-related hot topic titles that have parents concerned:
- “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Paperback” by Alison Bechdel
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson
- “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
- “Gabi, A Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero
- “Invisible Girl” by Lisa Jewell
I did check with a Springfield Public Schools elementary library and none of these books were available. (Note: an earlier version of this column suggested one book was available in one school library, but that was in fact a different, non-controversial book with the same title.)
Funds to be potentially restricted include not only state and federal grants but also public library funds allocated by the General Assembly. With legislators stepping in, one may ask, “What about my First Amendment rights?” As adults, we do have freedoms; however, we also have responsibilities to place safeguards for children. This is why movies have ratings and websites have “age appropriate” warnings. If children aren’t the appropriate age to see a movie with the same horrific content that parents are concerned with in a book, why should this type of book be allowed in a school?
Children do need safe boundaries to maintain their “childlike” freedoms and innocence for as long as logical.
RELATED LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Letter: School librarians are dedicated to providing age-appropriate and relevant books for students
A column advocating limits on books in school libraries was misinformed. Springfield Public Schools librarians are dedicated professionals who use their expertise to select age-appropriate books for students.
Books in school libraries should enhance curriculum
Keep in mind, we’re addressing books with what some see as pornographic (visually and sexually explicit) content and graphic details of murder — in a school where a child is sent to learn reading, math, history, and language. School is a place to prepare children with fundamental skills and knowledge areas, defined as early stages of formal education, not educate them on wording and imagery that will keep them up at night or encourage them to become sexually active in middle school.
The books in libraries are meant to enhance the curriculum, so children should be encouraged to read books on many topics in order to complement the education component. Parents shouldn’t have to monitor what explicit books are being offered to children, however, sadly this is what it has come to. And for those who are fighting to keep the books in the school libraries, by all means, buy the books for yourself and at home teach your children how to problem solve the real world realities.
I get it, there are families who want their children to learn certain morals and family values. This is a responsibility of the parent, not the teacher. I too have books at home that I used in rearing my children.
I can’t think of a better way to end this article than with a Dr. Seuss quote — Oh wait, six of his books will no longer be published (canceled) over “hurtful and wrong” imagery. Geez!
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” — Dr. Seuss