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One Teacher’s Fight Against Quiet Censorship

Posted By Administration, Monday, February 13, 2017
by Emily Visness

In the past few years I’ve made an extra effort to read books by and about people from marginalized groups. The reasons are many, ranging from a desire for personal growth and understanding of people who are different from myself to simply wanting to liven up my reading life, but the main reason I read diversely is my students. I co-teach in 8th grade Language Arts and Social Studies classes in a Title 1 middle school (a school that receives federal financial assistance due to a high percentage of students from low-income families), and much of my job consists of getting kids to read. My students often don’t know what to read, or how to find a book that suits them, so I give a lot of book recommendations. Sometimes I give students books that reflect their own life experiences. Other times I recommend books to students with characters whose lives are different from their own. I believe that when students read a diverse array of stories they have the opportunity to grow into dynamic, empathetic, self-confident and accepting people. However, sometimes age-appropriate books with diverse characters are quietly removed from school libraries and classrooms because adults think the subject matter is inappropriate for kids. This is an effort to erase the experiences of certain groups of people. As a teacher of kids who identify with those groups, I believe it’s my responsibility to fight against that in any way I can.

Out of all the forms of censorship, quiet censorship is, to me, the most insidious. An act of quiet censorship is done through one person’s private decision to keep kids from accessing a book because the book conflicts with that person’s own beliefs. In other words, the adult either removes a book or doesn’t include a book in a collection because they believe something about the book is wrong or inappropriate, and therefore no child should read about it. This differs from self-censorship, which is when an adult removes or excludes a book to avoid the possibility of offending others, even when they have not been officially told to do so. The thing is, many schools have students living the experiences that are kept from them through acts of quiet censorship. Kids shouldn’t be made to feel that their stories are not worth telling. I’ve seen firsthand the excitement of a student reading a story about a character who looks like him or her, or has a similar life situation, or practices the same religion, or is also struggling with mental health. Although I try to know my students as well as possible, I often don’t know every aspect of their lives, and students have things they keep private. I may not know which student will need that book, but I certainly want that book to be available to students who need it!

Acts of quiet censorship by other adults are out of my control because, frankly, I probably won’t hear about them. It’s the nature of quiet censorship. I don’t even know of any instances in my school, although I’ve occasionally heard workroom stories about it happening in other schools. What is in my control is to create a positive, trusting relationship with students so they know I will advocate for them, and one way I can do that is by sharing diverse stories with them. I teach students of different races, religions, and sexual orientations, students who have various family structures, students who have disabilities (both visible and invisible), students who are immigrants, students with mental health issues, students whose families are dealing with addiction, students who live in foster families, and students who live in poverty. Their individual struggles are immense, yet they are brave, and bold, and resilient. We say that books are windows and mirrors. It’s every student’s right to look into that mirror, or through that window, and be validated by seeing themselves or grow by seeing someone else in the pages of a book.

Every year in one of my 8th grade ELA classes, my co-teacher and I hold a drawing for a student’s chance to read All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (I only have one copy in my classroom library, hence the drawing). The drawing is held as the book project for that grading period is introduced, which includes the requirement of finding a news article about a current event that is similar to the conflict in the book a student chooses. All American Boys is a story told from a dual point of view – one black teenage boy and one white teenage boy – and the story centers around an act of police brutality toward an innocent black teen. Once I book-talk this book to our class and give students a chance to include their names in the drawing, I have several hands go up. Most of those hands, with a few exceptions, belong to the black boys. This story is a reality for them as a black teenage boy in America. This book tells the story of what their mothers worry about as they go out into the world each day. They are interested in reading this story because it could so easily, and frighteningly, be their own. Who am I to keep them from this story? This is only one example, and I don’t always get it right the first time. As a teacher, I do this for every child to the best of my ability. It’s my responsibility and my privilege to read diverse books for them, recommend diverse books to them, and promote diversity in the choosing of books for their school.

My school’s library has a great selection of diverse books, and our librarian goes above and beyond to make sure the collection is inclusive. We’re lucky - there are many options for my students to choose from. While accessibility is key, I don’t just put diverse books like All American Boys on my classroom library shelf and hope kids find it. I share it with them. We as teachers and librarians must fight quiet censorship by actively recommending diverse books for curriculum adoption, summer reading lists, school book clubs, or a class book study. We must book-talk diverse books to students and introduce them to new stories. We must challenge them to read books with characters who are different from themselves. We must give them stories they can identify with to show them that their own stories matter. We can fight quiet censorship by making the voices of the inclusive louder than those of the exclusive.

We as teachers and librarians have the power to collectively change the norm, reset the default, upset the status quo; we just have to use it.


Emily is a Title 1 middle school teacher who promotes reading to her students and actively attempts to put relevant books into their hands, a mom who is raising passionate readers, a believer in the importance of diverse literature for young people, a lover of banned or challenged books, and an advocate for all students’ right to read. She writes about her experiences, thoughts, and beliefs surrounding reading and books on her blog The Bookish Advocate (thebookishadvocate.wordpress.com). You can also find her on Facebook (The Bookish Advocate), Twitter (@bookishadvocate), and Instagram (TheBookishAdvocate).









Tags:  censorship  Emily Visness 

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A Message from FTRF's Director

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Brexit. The rise of Austria’s Freedom Party, France’s Front National, Netherlands’ Party for Freedom. Anti-immigrant movements in Italy and Hungary.

In the United States, following a campaign in which the winning candidate called many Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, threatened to jail a political opponent, and vowed to make it easier to sue the media, many fear that a nativist, nationalist, even authoritarian movement has returned to our shores.

I said, “returned.” In preparing for a webinar called “ALA’s Essentials in Intellectual Freedom,” I was reading about the creation of librarianship’s core document: the Library Bill of Rights. The first version was drafted in 1938 by Forrest Spaulding, then director of the Des Moines Public Library. It was occasioned by, and intended to speak out against, the “growing intolerance, suppression of free speech and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals.”

A year later, that revised document was adopted by the American Library Association. It has become the most enduring and fundamental statement of our professional values.

As I’ve been exploring the landscape of intellectual freedom this year, I think the Library Bill of Rights is worth another and closer look. To that end, I’m pleased to offer this free download to a handy pocket version of the Library Bill of Rights, and the Freedom to Read Statement. Print out as many copies as you like, and hand it out to as many people as you can.

I’m also excited to offer this teaser for an upcoming new product: the Library Bill of Rights poster. Suitable for framing, it will be available from the ALA Store in late December. I would like to see it proudly displayed in every library board room in the nation. Every departing board member should get one for his or her home.

It’s hard to know if the heated rhetoric of a raucous political campaign will translate once again into the turmoil that followed the late 1930s. But it’s clear that the Freedom to Read Foundation, and its willingness to stand up for the values that ground and define us, will be needed in the years to come. If you just got a renewal notice, please consider rounding that up. When you get a letter from us talking about a donation opportunity – think about what’s at stake.

And thank you for standing with us.

Jamie LaRue, Director
Freedom to Read Foundation &
The Office for Intellectual Freedom 

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BBW Event Brings Freedom to Read and Environmental Issues Together

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On the evening of Friday, April 15, Banned: A community conversation about censorship and free speech (Banned) and Friends of Hemming Park co-hosted The Lorax Movie and Green Market, a family-friendly event in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. Event activities tied together two important issues during the week preceding Earth Day: the need to protect trees and our environment and the freedom to read. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a favorite banned classic that highlights the environmental impact of deforestation; the Year of the Trees was the Earth Day 2016 theme.

 

Since Fall 2015, Banned and its collaborative partners have presented more than 70 programs at libraries, museums, college campuses and other venues throughout Duval and St. Johns counties to inform the public on issues of censorship and free speech.

 

This event was sponsored by FTRF's Judith Krug Fund Banned Books Week Event Grants of 2015.

 

Grant applications are currently open for 2016 events. Read More about Banned Books Week Event Grants HERE.

Tags:  BBW grants 

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FTRF and GSLIS at Illinois announce intellectual freedom course and scholarship opportunities

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois) are pleased to announce a partnership to offer an online graduate-level course on intellectual freedom for library and information science (LIS) students around the country. The course, in its third year, will be taught by GSLIS professor Emily Knox, who was awarded a 2015 Instructor of the Year award by the WISE (Web-based Information Science Education) consortium for the course. It is a project of the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund.

“Intellectual Freedom and Censorship” is a 2-credit course and will meet online Tuesdays August 23–October 11, 2016. It is open to any student enrolled in an LIS degree program.  As part of the collaboration, Freedom to Read Foundation staff and volunteers will lend their expertise as guest speakers, and FTRF and ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom archival materials will be made available to students. 

“Our culture is at a tipping point, a shift in its tolerance for the First Amendment. It is imperative that today’s library students have a deep and thoughtful exposure to the value of free speech. And who better to receive it from than the 2015 WISE instructor of the year?” said James LaRue, Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Freedom to Read Foundation.

“I’m excited to teach the intellectual freedom and censorship class again this Fall,” said Professor Emily Knox. “The course is one of the highlights of my semester. I, like the students, enjoy listening and learning from our weekly speakers and I love our spirited class discussions.”

 Read more HERE

Tags:  GSLIS  krug fund 

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Applications for the Gordon M. Conable Conference Scholarship are now open!

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF) offers an annual scholarship for library school students and new professionals to attend ALA's Annual Conference. The goal of the Gordon M. Conable Conference Scholarship is to advance two principles that Gordon held dear: intellectual freedom and mentoring.

More info HERE.

Tags:  ALA Annual Conference  Conable Scholarship 

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