Time Hasn’t Healed All Wounds
While going through some old not-quite-done pieces of writing, I came across something that threw me for a loop. It seemed extremely topical, but it was in my discarded drafts folder, and I didn’t remember writing it. When I checked the version history, I found I’d started writing it in 2019.
It made me a bit sad to realize that, as we come up on the fourth anniversary of that piece, the pressures on school librarians I wrote about then have only increased. We are in a difficult time, and the weights of what is right versus what is easy has grown heavier and heavier.
But I find hope in the fact that humans are – essentially, eventually – rational beings. We can think beyond our emotions and take the right action, even when it’s not easy.
What follows are thoughts from four years ago. Hopefully, they will seem as antiquated four years from now as they seem relevant now.
Learning to Overcome Impulses
I love sweets. If you handed me some sugar-coated dirt, I’d probably eat it. And for the majority of my life, I was able to indulge pretty freely. I used to be able to shed pounds by jumping into an exercise routine for a month or two. But in recent years, my metabolism has gotten a whole lot less efficient. Now, I have to work out twice as frequently, and eat half as much, to maintain a “dad-bod”.
These physical changes have required me to make some mental changes. Rather than grabbing whatever food is closest to hand, I now try to consider what is best for me in the long run. What kind of nutrition will I get from eating this? How is the fat-to-protein ratio?
I know this is making me healthier. But I’m spending a lot more time thinking about what I eat, and it’s still not my first impulse. Making the choice between instant gratification and smart choice, between efficiency and long-term benefit, is not natural to humans. But it’s one of the factors that makes us more than just creatures.
What the Experts Say
Psychologists have known for a long time that humans tend to choose the path of least resistance in daily life. An interesting article from Time magazine (“How Your Brain Tricks You Into Believing Fake News”, Aug. 8, 2018) does a nice job of elucidating how this plays into the ongoing issues faced by the public regarding news. (It also points to the vital importance of information literacy instruction for students – and adults.) But this is not just an issue for our news-gathering habits.
I recently was directed via a Twitter repost to a School Library Journal article, “Diverse Characters Impact Decisions To Buy Books”. This 2018 article discusses a survey in which some librarians – and especially school librarians – revealed that they would forgo purchasing certain titles they thought might lead to challenges. The article points out that this is a very fraught area. School librarians certainly find themselves in a position unique to the school. They are responsible for meeting the reading needs of every student. This covers a wide range of topics, interests, and genres, as well as wide-ranging levels of ability, maturity, and independence.
It’s Not “Self-Censorship”, It’s Censorship
The easy thing to do in such a situation is to focus on materials for the “lowest-common denominator.” Purchasing materials that are guaranteed not to cause any commotion or consternation is the safest course. But such materials may not meet the needs of all students. And the students who need the more challenging materials are frequently the ones who are least likely to get them, due to issues of access of one type or another.
It is imperative for school librarians to remember that there is no such thing as “self-censorship.” If you censor materials for your library, you are actually instituting censorship against the students who use that school library. They are the ones who will not get the choice to read or not to read. They are the ones who are left without information that might be important to their intellectual development.
The Good Kind of Challenge
The books school librarians are most likely to avoid are the ones that provide the most challenging ideas. Being challenged to consider different ideas and opinions is an important part of the educational process. And, as one respondent on Twitter pointed out, “Reading is a way to explore ideas without necessarily accepting them.”
Other respondents pointed to the ALA’s “Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights” as well as the AASL’s “Defending Intellectual Freedom: LGBTQ+ Materials In School Libraries” as resources with which school librarians should be familiar.
Education is an important job. Making sure we provide students with information and material that helps them develop their minds is not an easy task. But in an age when ignorance seems to be rising, it is more important than ever that educators of all stripes provide students with access to materials that can help them see all of the world, not just isolated slices of it. The only way to combat ignorance is to provide information and exposure to things that are different than our lived experiences.
Author: Steve Tetreault
After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!
Categories: Intellectual Freedom