A Student’s List of “Evil” Books | Scales on Censorship

Pat Scales fields questions about a student who harasses others over reading choices, a verbally abusive mother, and a principal who lets parents observe class.

I have been the librarian at my elementary school for 22 years. I never felt intimidated by a parent or an administrator until this year. My principal told the faculty that a group of parents has asked to periodically observe us working with students. He gave them permission without talking this over with staff.
I can understand how you and the entire staff feel intimidated. The first mistake the principal made was not engaging the faculty in the discussion. Check your school district policy regarding parents observing teachers and librarians. If there isn’t a policy, go through the proper channels and request that the board adopt one that gives parents the information they want without intimidating faculty.
These parents may belong to a local chapter of Moms for Liberty or a similar organization. Ask the principal if he is aware of these groups. Since he has already given permission in this case, you have no choice but to comply. But at the very least, the faculty should demand that visits be scheduled, not unannounced. Then, invite an equal number of parents who are supportive of the faculty and the curriculum. With parents present, have students share a favorite book and why they recommend it. Maybe it’s time for the parents to time travel back to their own childhood. Ask them to share books they loved. They may learn a thing or two from this exercise. If students listen to them, perhaps they will listen to the students. Periodically post students’ reading recommendations on the school’s website. This sends a clear message that you are open about books and teaching.
A fifth-grade student told me that his youth minister gave him a list of “evil” books he shouldn’t read. He harasses other students about their reading choices. I have taken the student aside to talk, but he is still badgering classmates. A parent complained that her son feels judged for what he is reading.
It’s clear that this student has been indoctrinated. His attitude likely won’t change, but you can continue talking with him about all students’ right to make their own ­reading choices. Take him aside every time you see him harass others. If his behavior continues, you need to request a parent conference. Do not enter the conference alone. Ask the boy’s teacher and an administrator to be present. Be prepared; this boy is likely mirroring his parents’ opinions. The following points should be stressed:
• Parents have the right to guide their child’s reading, but not to impose their own views on others.
• Students have a right to select books from a list they received at church or from other groups, but they may not distribute it to other students or use it to harass others.
• All students are encouraged to return books that don’t interest them.
• Any type of harassment is subject to punishment.
My school has two first-grade teachers who are fresh out of college and have embraced children’s literature. They want to read aloud Sarah, Plain and Tall because they loved it when they were in elementary school. How do I guide them without appearing that I’m censoring their plans?
Ask the teachers how old they were when they read the book. I’m sure they were older than they thought they were. Tell them that while some students may be emotionally ready for this novel, most first graders aren’t. Suggest titles you know work with that age group.
I’m a children’s librarian in a fairly large public library. A mother who brings her son to the library every week scrutinizes what books he selects. If she doesn’t like them, she is verbally abusive to him. Usually, they leave with the boy in tears. How do I respond to a patron like this?
It’s admirable that the mother is engaged in her son’s reading, but her abusive behavior isn’t acceptable. Ask to sit down with the mother and child and talk about books he may like. The mother may only know books from her childhood and not understand that most children want what other children are reading. It’s quite possible you can suggest titles that satisfy both mother and child. In this way, everyone is a winner.
Pat Scales is the former chair of ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee. Send questions to pscales@bellsouth.net.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing