Thursday, July 13, 2006

Walking the Fine Line

According to the LA Daily News, the Wilsona School District board has put new library book guidelines in place. This has come about following the decision of trustees to remove 23 books from a list recommended for a school library.

Books cannot depict drinking alcohol, smoking, drugs, sex, including "negative sexuality," implied or explicit nudity, cursing, violent crime or weapons, gambling, foul humor and "dark content."

"In selected instances, an occasional inappropriate word may be deleted with hite-out rather than rejecting the entire book," the policy said.

The policy states that library materials must be age-appropriate, taking into consideration the different maturity levels of district students who range in age from 5 to 14.

One criteria is that books must be "socially appropriate" -- "fair balanced socially appropriate portrayal of people with regard to race, creed, color, national origin, sex and disability." "Materials must not promote nor discourage any particular religious doctrine."

Along the line of religion, this is an interesting tidbit: According to a number of sources including a US web site devoted to the separation of church and state,
The Wilsona School District board in Lake Los Angeles, California has voted 3-2 to permit invocations at the start of its monthly meetings. The Antelope Valley Press newspaper says that the religious ritual is to be 'a prayer of entreaty and call for divine presence that would be nonsectarian.' Even so, the invocation at the first meeting governed by the new rule was delivered by Pastor Jeff Loewen of Living Springs Foursquare Church and 'invoked Jesus Christ, cited Jehovah and asked the Lord to look down upon the people's wickedness and sought forgiveness for banning prayer in public schools.'

All books must comply with a section of state education law, titled the "Hate Violence Prevention Act," which states,
Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government.

A book containing an unsavory hero was banned for exposing the children to a bad role model. "The Eye of the Warlock," was deemed inappropriate because of the warlock character. However, the school committee member who read it appeared to enjoy it: "A very fractured version of Hansel and Gretel. The hero, Rudi, saves the day. I greatly enjoyed it." Read what the author has to say at Oz and Ends.

Board President Sharon Toyne explained,
I think basically because for the last eight or nine years, we've been pushing character education in our school district. There are so many issues changing in the society we are living in. With this ever-changing society, we have to just stick back to the traditional thing of what kids are supposed to be learning.
I wonder exactly what the kids are supposed to be learning. There are mixed messages in the application of this policy.

Some books were banned despite the committee admitting they were unfamiliar with them.

Rejected titles included three bilingual Clifford the Big Red Dog books, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "Welcome to the USA California," "Disney's Christmas Storybook," and two books from the Artemis Fowl series. Trustee Marlene Olivarez, a retired teacher, said the latest "Harry Potter" installment was rejected because it is fantasy. "We want books to be things that children would be able to relate to in real life," she said. "We want these books to support the curriculum, build character, give kids enjoyment, and encourage reading." Is the board living in a fantasy world where people do not smoke, drink, have sex, or swear? If the children can't read realistic books and cannot read fantasy, it seems to me that the reading list will be quite limited.

Board member Sharon Toyne is afraid of what could happen if a child's imagination is aroused.
The book's [Harry Potter series] wizards and magic all falls in the line of witchcraft. . . . In our district we are trying to promote character with programs like Character Counts, and I don't see how the book promotes that. I think [the books] could arouse a child's imagination and curiosity of the unknown, of the dark side.

Some of the rejected books may be brought back for approval, according to the trustees.

There is a fine line between protecting children and keeping them sheltered in a safe, little world (but one without fantasy).

No comments: