School Leaders

Challenging a Book in Your School

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There are many educators who believe that when parents question something being taught in the classroom, it's meddling. When parents ask to have something removed...it's censorship! But, is it? To hear certain groups tell it, you'd conclude that Hitler is alive and well and lurking in the wings of Hooterville High School. 

Definitions

The word "censorship" as it applies, or is misapplied, to school issues seems hard to define. The dictionary defines a censor as, "one authorized to examine material, as literature or plays, and remove or suppress anything considered objectionable." If that definition were applied to a school district, every school board member, administrator, and educator would be a censor. They are all authorized to examine material and suppress (by not choosing) all kinds of books and programs to which students could be exposed. 

Even the pros struggle with applying censorship to classroom situations. Edward B. Jenkinson who served as the chairman of the National Council of Teachers of English's Committee Against Censorship takes a stab at clarifying the issue for us in his book Censors In The Classroom: The Mind Benders. He not only falls short in his attempt, he admits defeat in the introduction of the book: 

"I, too, am a censor. I do not permit my daughter to watch certain television shows because they are filled with crime and violence. I do not want her to read certain literary works because I believe that she is not yet ready for them. As a parent, I feel that I have a moral obligation to be concerned about what my child sees and reads." (p.xvi) 

Recognizing that his book would be pretty short if he left it at that, Mr. Jenkinson goes on: 

"On the other hand, I know I do not have the right to impose my standards on the other children in her class or in the nation. I must live with the constant uncertainty that by denying her the right to read or see anything, I may be seriously limiting her education. I do not know exactly what is best for my child — I can only try to provide what I think is right. But the public censor apparently knows what is best for all children." 

Now, I'm not picking on Mr. Jenkinson, but after all, he did write the book. The whole problem of censorship in the classroom is a clash between private and public censorship. 

When Mr. Jenkinson sends his daughter to the public school, he must decide whether or not his "moral obligation" extends into the classroom. If it is truly an obligation, he must inject himself into that classroom. Otherwise he, or any other parent, must alter his sense of moral obligation by stating, "I feel that I have a moral obligation to be concerned about what my child sees and reads...except in school; then, anything is acceptable." Not much of an obligation, is it? 

The question of "moral obligation" also goes on in the mind of the teacher. She is the "imposer" of values ranging from conduct, hygiene, speech, academics, and, yes, what is valuable for children to read. And, yet, she is only one person, just like a parent. When a parent questions the validity of a book in school, we call it a censorship challenge. But when the teacher does it, we call it part of the job. Maybe censorship is part of the job! 

So, What is Censorship? 

Reason causes me to conclude that to be an educator is to be a censor. The word "censor" has become a bad word. It is used today to emotionalize a situation. It never clarifies an issue. It is only used to paint one group of people as the "bad guys." There is nothing wrong with the word. The problem is with what we now think of when we hear the word. When I say, to be an educator is to be a censor, I mean that the very process of education chooses one thing over another, sometimes for logical reasons and more often because of personal biases. 

To be fair, schools cannot have it both ways. Educators shouldn't describe what a parent wants to do in seeking to remove a book as censorship and describe what schools do every day as selection. 

The only suitable definition of a censor is the one found in the dictionary: "one authorized to examine material, as literature or plays, and remove or suppress anything considered objectionable." Some dictionaries refer to suppressing things for the "public good." The very act of teaching is the act of promoting that which is good and ignoring that which is objectionable. 

Determining what is good and what is objectionable is where the conflict arises. Public education by its very design cannot avoid these conflicts. If it could, it would neither be public nor education. 

Four Book Selection Guidelines You Can Suggest to Teachers

1. Does it violate your school's handbook on profanity? If a student can't say it in the halls, why does he have to read it in the classroom? Look, in the real world lots of people use foul language, but if we don't like it we can walk away. In a compulsory education system with an assigned reading a student is forced to read it. Why do that? Even if the book is just on a reading list, you have to ask yourself, "With 50,000 books published every year, is this the best stuff we can recommend?" 

2. Would the teacher read the book out loud in public? If the book has a sexually explicit or gratuitously violent passage that seems so relevant to student angst or sexual tension, would the teacher be willing to read it at the next school board meeting or PTA? Could he give it to a school board member and ask her to read it out loud? If he thinks it might be embarrassing, maybe he needs to think twice about letting minors read it. Another thought: Is the teacher assuming students are more mature than they really are? They seem sophisticated in the way they talk and dress, but they may not be emotionally ready for a certain book's content. 

3. Does the book represent the most noble and most inspiring literature students can read? They'll probably spend most of their lives reading uninspiring stuff (if they read much at all). Now's the chance to lift their sights a little higher. 

4. Is the book the only one that will teach to the objective? Can the teacher satisfactorily defend why he chose the book and rejected (censored) any other possibilities? Can he reach his objective with another book and, thus, satisfactorily address parents' concerns? 

© 2012-2016, Eric Buehrer

By The Book/Understanding the Proper Process for Removing a Book

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Understanding the Proper Process for Removing a Book from School Use

Can a school remove objectionable library books without running afoul of the First Amendment? The answer is a decided "yes," says Bryan Brown, a staff attorney for the American Family Association's Center for Law and Policy. Brown cautions that any removal of a book should only be attempted according to guidelines deduced from the U.S. Supreme Court's Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, 457 US, 853 (1982). Brown offers three points that administrators and school board members should keep in mind: 

1. Fashion a policy

If the school board has no policy regarding guidelines for book challenges, one must be drafted. A review of any challenged book should be in accordance with guidelines drafted in advance of the challenge. 

The policy should create a review committee comprised of parents and educators appointed by the board. Committee members should serve by designation of the school board, not by election, because the courts prefer that a committee be removed from politics and partisan pressure. Parents can ask to be considered for serving on such a committee. 

2. Review legitimate complaints

Once such policies are in place, any parent or educator can recommend that a book be reviewed. Books in question should be truly offensive and patently unsuitable. 

Once a book is challenged as being unsuitable, the school board must refer the book to the review committee. The review committee must then read and research the book, taking into account, at a minimum, the following: the book's educational suitability, good taste, relevance and age-appropriateness. Any and all published reviews, especially by professional associations, should be discussed and considered. Alternatives to removal, such as restricted access, should be considered. 

3. Document your reasoning

The committee should decide, by majority vote, whether to retain the book in the library or have it removed. If the vote is for removal, then the majority should put their reasons in writing. Acceptable reasons include their finding that the book is "pervasively vulgar" or "educationally unsuitable." 

Unacceptable reasons would be that the book is "un-American," religiously intolerable, or that its removal is a bid to prescribe an orthodoxy in "politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion." 

The school board must then review the committee's recommendation. Like the committee, the school board should document the reasons supporting its action. If challenged, the courts will review the entire process, ensuring that the removal was undertaken through "established, regular and facially unbiased procedures for the review of controversial materials." 

Brown cites an example of parents in Medford, Wisconsin, who challenged the book Iceman, written by Chris Lynch and endorsed as a "Best Book" for young adults (sixth through eighth graders) by the American Library Association. Medford parents raised concerns that the book was in the local junior high library. 

Iceman is the fictional tale of a prone-to-violence, 14-year-old hockey player who has an unhealthy obsession with death. The book is laced with four-letter words, blasphemous slang, and repeated interviews with a creepy mortician who claims to "pimp for the dead folks I got." 

The school board voted to remove the book from the library. By following well-planned guidelines, your district will have more success in reviewing and, if necessary, removing inappropriate books. 

© 2000 - 2016, Gateways to Better Education 

The Bible in State Academic Standards

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There is a common misconception that teaching about the Bible and Christianity is not allowed in public school classrooms because of concerns over the establishment of religion. As The Bible in State Academic Standards shows, quite to the contrary, state academic standards across the nation provide ample opportunity for educators to teach about the Bible, Christian beliefs, and Christians who were influential in history. For example, California sixth graders are expected to:

“Note the origins of Christianity in the Jewish Messianic prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as described in the New Testament, and the contribution of St. Paul the Apostle to the definition and spread of Christian beliefs (e.g., belief in the Trinity, resurrection, salvation).” (Standard 6.7.6, adopted in 1998 and reaffirmed in 2005)

In this 230-page report we provide:

  • State academic standards related to the Bible and Christianity. Every state (and the District of Columbia) is included
  • The preambles to state constitutions that reference God because most states have an expectation that students will learn about their constitutions
  • State laws regarding freedom of religious expression

To download a 12-page Introduction to The Bible in State Academic Standards, please fill out the form below...

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Resurrect Easter in Your School

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You can help get the Easter story told to your child's class this year. How? By presenting the non-threatening Holiday Restoration Card from Gateways to Better Education to your child's teacher. You also may want to ask the teacher if you can share what Easter means to your family, and even read scripture. 

Diane Borja, a parent, wrote: "The effectiveness of the Easter cards multiplied like bunnies!" She shared the card with her prayer group, and every mom purchased a card to give to their child's teacher. 

"I bought extra cards," Diane explained, "and mailed them to teacher friends in other school districts. My friends were elated and enthusiastically shared the information with fellow teachers." "Thanks to your Easter card," Diane added, "I did a Passover/Easter presentation (complete with a homemade tomb and figures) in my son's second grade class. I had the privilege of explaining the historical meaning of the holiday in a fifth grade class as well." 

The eight-page Easter card tells the humorous story of an encounter between the Easter Bunny and a teacher. The bunny explains that the true message of Easter is about new life in Jesus. The teacher raises all the objections commonly heard from public school educators, but in this story, the smart little bunny is very familiar with U.S. court cases. He helps the teacher understand that teaching about Jesus at Easter is legally permitted. The card also includes legal documentation, Constitutionally-sound lesson plan ideas, and more! 

EASTER RESOURCES:


Order the EASTER CARD, Bunny goes to School, to give to your teacher.

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Request a copy of our Easter Lesson Plan for Public Schools by CLICKING HERE.

Similar in appearance to a middle school textbook, it adapts Luke 22-24 into a textbook-style lesson with pictures, vocabulary, culture facts, and discussion questions.

We would love to hear how you helped restore Easter in your school. Tell us your story here.