Thursday, February 05, 2009


Over at School Library Journal's website, there's a column about self-censorship that is worth a look. It's provocative title is "A Dirty Little Secret."

The bulk of the column is about what does not get bought by librarians. The columnist, Whelen (a senior editor at SLJ), writes about their fears and anxieties. Fear of parents, school boards, community members, and students who will object to books with sexual content and gay themes. To avoid confrontation, they do not buy the books.

Rather than provide students with books that reflect reality, then, librarians play it safe. In effect, the librarians are choosing to let the gay students suffer. Is it really that simple? Preserve ones self and well-being, one's job? It's easy to rationalize the decision... "If I avoid that book, I avoid trouble and keep my job, and I can work subtly on this topic in other ways..."

The article also includes a brief mention of a writer who wrote a book about the Trail of Tears. Her publisher asked her to "...tone down her criticism of Andrew Jackson and his treatment of Native Americans..." I don't know the book at all, so can't comment on it one way or another. It is called The Trail of Tears: An American Tragedy, by Tracy Barrett. Rather than change what she wrote, Barrett went with another publisher.

Tone it down? Right! Let's not tell anyone, especially children, that our presidents did terrible things!

The SLJ column calls this decision not to buy a book "self-censorship." In education circles, this is akin to "the selective tradition" or "the hidden curriculum."

Whatever label we use, it is more than just fear and anxiety at work, it is the affirmation of the status quo, an unspoken, and generally unaware desire to perpetuate and preserve a certain image of America. A certain false image that hurts us all as individuals, as members of our communities, and as citizens of the United States.

How long will we deceive ourselves?

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