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Don't defend any book

Philosophy of Resource Selection
Public education in a democracy is committed to facilitate the educational growth and equal educational opportunity of all students. The freedom to learn, therefore, and the corresponding freedom to teach are basic to a democratic society. In order to meet these goals, School District 77 is committed to selecting educational resources which will aid student development in knowledge acquisition, critical thinking, objective evaluation and aesthetic appreciation. from Mankato Area Public Schools Board Policy 606: TEXTBOOKS AND INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS

The discussion over the Newbery Award winning book The Power of Lucky continues on LM_Net, the AASL blog and, I am sure, in meetings, phone conversations and e-mails throughout the country. I find it upsetting that so many professional librarians seem to have lost the basic understandings of selection, reconsideration, in loco parentis, and intellectual freedom. But perhaps it's time for a wake-up call that we all need to brush up on some of these concepts.

The main objection I have to the conversations has been that we are trying to defend a single book rather than defending a fair and open process for selecting and retaining any instructional material in our schools. Quite frankly, if a school decides to remove Lucky or any other book from its library or classrooms, so be it. If it decides to block every blog on the web, so be it. If it decides that Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet movie not be not be allowed because it shows a glimpse of Olivia Hussey's breasts, so be it. So long as due process has been followed in making the decision. While I can't imagine the circumstances under which I would do so, I like knowing that as a citizen I can request that  ill-chosen materials be removed from a public school.

As I remember from li-berry school, this is how professionals deal with the selection of and potential censorship of instructional materials:

1. They assure that the district has a board adopted selection/reconsideration policy. Oh, and they've read it.

2. They select all materials based on the stated selection criteria in the  policy. Here are ours:

Criteria for the Selection of Resources. Selection of resources shall be constant with the following principles:
1. To consider the characteristics and philosophy of the school and community when selecting resources.
2. To select resources which will meet needs, find use, reflect current research, and meet current standards of excellence.
3. To provide resources that will enrich and support the curriculum, taking into consideration the varied interests, abilities, and maturity levels of the individuals served.
4. To provide resources that will stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values and ethical standards.
5. To provide a background of information which will enable individuals to make intelligent judgments in their daily lives.
6. To provide resources relative to controversial issues so that individuals may develop informed opinions and practice critical reading and thinking.
7. To provide resources representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups and their contributions to our American heritage.
8. To place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of resources of the highest quality in order to assure a comprehensive collection appropriate for the users.
9. To anticipate and meet needs through awareness of subjects of current interest.

 3. They select only materials based on authoritative and reliable review sources.

4. If they are asked to remove an item selected from the instructional program, they do not defend the material, but insist that the board adopted reconsideration policy and procedures be followed. This policy should require that a standing reconsideration committee be appointed at the beginning of each school year. When requested by the committee, they will provide the rationale and resources used for selection of the item under reconsideration.

5. Once a resource is selected, they do not restrict its use by any student. Professionals cannot act in the place of parents (in loco parentis) to restrict access to materials to individuals.  

That's it. Know your selection policy, select from authoritative reviews, and insist on due process if a book is challenged. It's not hard, but it does take genuine courage at times. And it is not only why we need professionals in all our school libraries, but professionals who act professionally.

At some point in time, schools will need to wake up and realize that the principles of selection and reconsideration need to be applied to online resources, including the web, as well as print and audio-visual materials. Does your district have acensorship.jpg written policy that upholds the concepts of intellectual freedom in regard to the Internet? Who decides what is blocked and how are those decisions made? Are there resources from ALA and ISTE that can help schools formulate good policy in this area? (The Office of Intellectual Freedom at ALA does not respond to my e-mails about this.)

Other basic rules that I've forgotten? Library school was many, many, many years ago! 

Schools are closed here in Minnesota because of snow and ice. Can you tell?  

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Generation Next

As I was coming back from lunch yesterday, I heard part of a discussion on NPR about the political habits of young adults and caught that one of the guests was from the Pew organization - the source of many excellent studies of the views and habits of our current crop o' kids. So I did a bit of digging and found this recent Pew report from January 9, 2007, How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics: A PORTRAIT OF “GENERATION NEXT” (Generation Next includes those Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 years old.)

From the "overview. The bold is mine.

  • They (Generation Next) use technology and the internet to connect with people in new and distinctive ways. Text messaging, instant messaging and email keep them in constant contact with friends. About half say they sent or received a text message over the phone in the past day, approximately double the proportion of those ages 26-40.
  • They are the “Look at Me” generation. Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and MyYearbook allow individuals to post a personal profile complete with photos and descriptions of interests and hobbies. A majority of Gen Nexters have used one of these social networking sites, and more than four-in-ten have created a personal profile.
  • Their embrace of new technology has made them uniquely aware of its advantages and disadvantages. They are more likely than older adults to say these cyber-tools make it easier for them to make new friends and help them to stay close to old friends and family. But more than eight-in-ten also acknowledge that these tools “make people lazier.”
  • About half of Gen Nexters say the growing number of immigrants to the U.S. strengthens the country – more than any generation. And they also lead the way in their support for gay marriage and acceptance of interracial dating.
  • Beyond these social issues, their views defy easy categorization. For example, Generation Next is less critical of government regulation of business but also less critical of business itself. And they are the most likely of any generation to support privatization of the Social Security system.
  • They maintain close contact with parents and family. Roughly eight-in-ten say they talked to their parents in the past day. Nearly three-in-four see their parents at least once a week, and half say they see their parents daily. One reason: money. About three-quarters of Gen Nexters say their parents have helped them financially in the past year.
  • Their parents may not always be pleased by what they see on those visits home: About half of Gen Nexters say they have either gotten a tattoo, dyed their hair an untraditional color, or had a body piercing in a place other than their ear lobe. The most popular are tattoos, which decorate the bodies of more than a third of these young adults.
  • One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life.
  • They are somewhat more interested in keeping up with politics and national affairs than were young people a generation ago. Still, only a third say they follow what’s going on in government and public affairs “most of the time.”
  • In Pew surveys in 2006, nearly half of young people (48%) identified more with the Democratic Party, while just 35% affiliated more with the GOP. This makes Generation Next the least Republican generation.
  • Voter turnout among young people increased significantly between 2000 and 2004, interrupting a decades-long decline in turnout among the young. Nonetheless, most members of Generation Next feel removed from the political process. Only about four-in-ten agree with the statement: “It’s my duty as a citizen to always vote.”
  • They are significantly less cynical about government and political leaders than are other Americans or the previousbaby_cellphone.jpg generation of young people. A majority of Americans agree with the statement: “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful,” but most Generation Nexters reject this idea.
  • Their heroes are close and familiar. When asked to name someone they admire, they are twice as likely as older Americans to name a family member, teacher, or mentor. Moreover, roughly twice as many young people say they most admire an entertainer rather than a political leader.
  • They are more comfortable with globalization and new ways of doing work. They are the most likely of any age group to say that automation, the outsourcing of jobs, and the growing number of immigrants have helped and not hurt American workers.
  • Asked about the life goals of those in their age group, most Gen Nexters say their generation’s top goals are fortune and fame. Roughly eight-in-ten say people in their generation think getting rich is either the most important, or second most important, goal in their lives. About half say that becoming famous also is valued highly by fellow Gen

I miss my "Gen Next-er" son who is off at college. While he doesn't yet sport a tatoo of which I am aware, he does stay in contact - especially as the report says - when finances are part of the conversation.

I like this group coming up. They give me hope for the future.


Homage to Travis McGee

One of my more literate buddies and I were having supper a few weeks ago when the discussion veered from “lies about women” to “books we like.” Come to think about it, those may be the only things we ever talk about. Anyway, we tried to remember what specific book got us hooked on a particular genre. Kiddie books don’t count.

I can safely say that Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel started my infatuation with science fiction. Tolkien’s hobbits lead to a brief flirtation with fantasy novels. I remember Kenneth Roberts’ Northwest Passage and Mary Renault’s The King Must Die as my first dalliances with historical fiction – an affair that continues to this day. And of course, Fleming’s Bond stories created this fan of international espionage.

But I read two detective novels for every one book of another genre. And it was John D. McDonald’s Travis McGee who set me down this path. No pantywaist Hardy Boy or tea-sipping Marple or cerebral Holmes, this McGee. He describes himself as:

I was an artifact, genus boat bum, a pale-eyed, shambling, gangling, knuckly man, without enough unscarred hide left to make a decent lampshade. Watchful appraiser of the sandy-rumped beach ladies. Creaking knight errant, yawning at the thought of the next dragon.  They don't make grails the way they used to. The Green Ripper, p 46.
redfox.jpgMcGee set the mold for my favorite detectives. Smart, absolutely, but also unafraid of violence when needed and unafraid to buck the establishment when necessary. And always adhering to a personal moral code that detests bullies and protects the innocent. Knight errant, indeed.

I re-read a couple McGee mysteries just recently and McDonald’s writing has held up. McGee’s relationship with women won’t pass any political correctness tests today, but I love how the women he encounters can speak in complete, compound, even complex sentences that add up to whole paragraphs:
She wrenched around to face me, her mouth stretched into ugliness. "And what the hell do you know about relationships? Symbiotic! Limited contact with reality! How could you even pretend to recognize the intellectual position? Oh, you have your lousy little vanity, Mr. McGee. You have a shrewd, quick mind, and little tag ends of wry attitudes, and a short of deliberate irony, served up as if you were holding it on a tray. And you have the nerve to patronize me! You have all your snappy little answers to everything, but when they ask the wrong questions, you always have fists or kicking or fake superior laughter. You are a physical man, but in the best sense of being a man, you are not one-tenth the man my brother was. " Her eyes went wild and dazed. "Was," she repeated softly/ She had sunk the barb herself, and chunked it deep, and she writhed on it. A Purple Place for Dying, p. 71
McGee’s life was one I’ve always envied. Life onboard the houseboat The Busted Flush. Working only enough to take his retirement a small piece at a time. Beautiful women going in and out of his life. A true friend and Watson in next door neighbor Meyers. The life, I suppose, we all dream about but would probably detest were we actually in it. No children or grandchildren in McGee’s world as I remember.

I am always searching for other detectives of the McGee school – smart, violent and principled. As Bill Ott suggests in his February "Rousing Reads" column in American Libraries, Lee Child’s hero Jack Reacher comes close. Earl Swagger (Stephen Hunter), Dave Robicheaux (James Lee Burke), Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly), and even Gabriel Allon (Daniel Silva) honor the type.

It’s my hope that authors keep cranking out these tough guys that can use brains, bullets and fists. Any suggestions to expand my list? What book hooked you on a genre?