Today we’re going to talk about challenges, and then tomorrow we’re going to talk about censorship in schools. Just what kind of challenges are offensive to the ALA? Take just a minute to scan examples here.
Notice that most of the incidents occur in schools. Notice that in the introduction the challenge itself is highly offensive, without any distinction between a type and quality of challenge given. All challenges are considered inappropriate, a position with several problems.
First, it condemns in others what it allows in itself.Librarians stubbornly insist that they do not practice censorship, but they do. By its nature and goals, a library must omit some texts that somebody might want. When librarians admit that exclusion is not in itself bad and their actions necessarily exclude, they are in a much better position philosophically to use their limited resources more efficiently and successfully.
Second, it denies the reality that the courts define obscenity in part as what society would reasonably object to. By forcefully silencing all opposition, the ALA succeeds in creating the appearance of approval when it may not in fact be present. How else should society express its opinion that a book is not worth tax dollars to put it on the shelves for its children? How else would society cast a monster into the sea, as Milton argues in Areopagitica?
Third, it characterizes all opposition as ignorant, prudish, and closed minded, when in fact, some opposition is thoughtful, reasonable, and well stated. Rather than evaluating an objection on its merits, the ALA condemns all equally. A example will demonstrate the problem with this
Most people recognize truth to be a commodity that is at the very least occasionally verifiable and objectively checkable. It is why we have a court system, public schools, newspapers, reference works. It makes sense to an average person that materials blatantly untruthful should be generally less preferred (there may be an occasion historically to include such a book for a time in the course of a debate of ideas) and limited, but of course it would be unreasonable to expect that a librarian be an expert on every topic, given.the breadth of knowledge. Should a librarian be unaware of the problems factually with a book (librarians are not omniscient, after all), then it is entirely appropriate to recognize the legitimacy of certain challenges. But the ALA does not do so.
And if in a similar way all moral standards are at a very basic level agreed upon by reasonable people, it is not unreasonable to censor at this very basic level. Not everything goes. The ALA recognizes this (although grudgingly) in how it responds to the US censoring at times. Philosophically, we do not censor merely because a governing body tells us to, we ought to censor because it is right. We should censor obscene materials without a governing body. Perhaps the ALA would beg to differ.
Finally, the ALA gives lipservice to the rights of parents to control what their children read, but condemns any attempt by a parent to exercise that right. In practice, the ALA blatantly asserts the rights of teachers to control what children read. What if, however, a teacher really did choose a book inappropriate for a class to read? By what procedure should a responsible parent keep a teacher accountable?
The problem is not merely that such parents are trying to impose their view on every other child, as the ALA asserts. What could be wrong with a challenge requesting parental consent for certain controversial materials? Because more parents might actually refuse consent? Does it matter why parents refuse consent, or that their reasons might be objectionable to others?
Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that only parents and guardians have the right and the responsibility to determine their children’s-and only their children’s-access to library resources. Parents and guardians who do not want their children to have access to specific library services, materials, or facilities should so advise their children.
Significantly, the ALA smugly tells parents to control their children; that if a child checks out a book that is inappropriate, parents should return it and look for something appropriate. Yet the library itself separates “children’s books” from “adult books.” It is not unreasonable for a parent to simply make a request for a book to be considered for placement in a different location, just as libraries have already done with most of their holdings.
Challenges can be substantive or they can be silly. They can be for good reasons or poor reasons. It is best to evaluate challenges on their merits and not on their existence.
Tomorrow we’ll talk more about schools and censorship.