Friday, July 13, 2007

A Teacher-Librarian's Perspective

Stew Savard, a teacher-librarian on Vancouver Island, comments on the Saskatchewan situation...

My initial thought, having been a T/L a at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels, is that the T/L's decision in this case is wrong. I would have bought the book, and placed it in the different elementary libraries in which I was building a collection.

Building a collection isn't about finding pabulum for students and managing their thinking based on that pabulum. That is the worst form of censorship. Bullying happens in every school. Pretending it doesn't happen, by eliminating all references to it, is the worst form of denial. Denial of the hurt caused by bullies, allows both the hurt to continue and grow and allows adults and students to not learn how to confront bullies and help them to change.

The reason T/Ls collect both entertaining and challenging books is so that students can learn from the "fictional" responses of others. There are some books that I do not buy for my library. I use two tests, in the Middle School, where I am at right now. The first involves violence and whether or not it is gratuitous. "Hate You" by Graham McNamee contains violence. The violence isn’t gratuitous. It supports the story. Issues facing children and young teens are faced. Lessons are learned. The second test involves the use of sexual imagery. We don’t buy books with descriptions of sex. Romance! Well that is another story entirely. The characters can “swap spit,” as I describe it (usually with a grimace on my face), but that is where a reasonable line can be drawn at upper elementary and middle schools. Students need to learn how to manage their emotions and how better than from the mistakes of others.

I’ve enjoyed the Tarragon Island series. More to the point, almost all of the students I talked with, who have read this series, have enjoyed it. They like the humour and they like the lessons contained within your writing: don’t judge others by first impressions, have the courage to be true to yourself, and learn from the positive and negative actions of others.

It seems particularly ironic that the lessons you write about have been missed in this case. It also seems ironic that the school closed off an opportunity to deal with inappropriate language and with the malicious ways that language is often used in our culture.

My hope is, that after a summer of thought, the Librarian chooses to reconsider the decision and then deals with the broader topics raised in this series. (Slipping the book back on the shelves, without using the material to teach a lesson, would be a shame.)
Stew Savard

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