In a recent posting to LM_Net, continuing a conversation about the advisability of the student use of Wikipedia, school librarian Jeff Hastings writes:
Let me make it clear, though, that I'm saying that the scope [of Wikipedia] in a k-12 environment can be highly distracting to students and downright hazardous to your professional life. Personally, I work in a district where a "values" group recently took actions to attempt to convict teachers and school officials for "distributing pornography to minors" based upon their use of the book "Freedom writer's diary" in High School accelerated English. And most of us have now read about the felony conviction of a hapless substitute teacher who unwittingly "allowed" students to see pornographic images.
In that sort of climate especially, Wikipedia's scope in areas like sexuality, vernacular, and pop-culture become problematic. Again, I'd hate to explain to an antagonistic group of fundamentalists how a student learned to perform fellatio by perusing an illustrated Wikipedia article while ostensibly doing a library research project--and there's no doubt that that scenario could happen in an instant. I think educators have to take a second to think about that.
OK, let's step back and think for a minute what might happen if we used the views of every "antagonistic group of fundamentalists" to dictate our school and library selection policy. You know it just ain't the naughty bits they're worried about.
What about this subversive material?
Current evolutionary theory holds that all species evolved from a single form of life which lived more than 3 1/2 billion years ago ... Although evolution is called a "theory," this term does not mean that evolutionary biology is guesswork or is not supported by evidence. In science, a theory is a set of ideas based on observations about nature that explains many related facts. The theory of evolution is supported by evidence from many scientific fields. When a theory is supported by so much evidence, it becomes accepted as a scientific fact. Almost all scientists consider the theory of evolution to be a scientific fact.
This radical information source? World Book Online. Jeff, I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that you have parents who feel this violates their values and ought to be tossed from your library as well. I hope you got some big dumpsters!
My question is this: If we let the loudest, most politically and socially radical members of our communities frighten us into abandoning our selection principles, where does it stop?
And how do we get our technology folks to help us fight for intellectual freedom instead of unilaterally making fear-based decisions? Does any technology post-secondary program from which we draw candidates for these positions address selection policies. developmental needs of kids, or censorship issues? I doubt it. I get e-mails like this one from a Florida librarian way too often:
In my school district, the technology department, in all its infinite wisdom, blocks Wikipedia. They did this without asking one media specialist his/her expert opinion. ... The media specialists met as a group and talked to the head tech guy, and his answer was, it had to be done in "real time." Apparently there were too many students wondering how the human body works. It seems to me that might be why we have one of the highest rates of pregnant teens. I can't quite get them to see it my way. And so it goes.
The fight is real and it is important. And it requires courage and strategy. It requires an alliance between librarians and technologists.
There. It's good to let off a little steam. I guess I will need to change the blog entry category on this from "professionalism" to "rants"!