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On Choosing Texts for Students

Many booksFor the third time this year, the book and librarian blogosphere has been aflame with discussion about whether or not a certain book should or shouldn’t be published or used. This time When We Was Fierce by e.E.Charlton-Trujillo is under fire and the publisher has nixed its August release. Earlier this year, Scholastic decided “to pull A Birthday Cake for George Washington [by Ramin Ganeshram and discussions arose] around the use of the word “tribe” alongside images of children in natural surroundings with feathers in their hair, in Lane Smith’s There Is a Tribe of Kids.”

Jennifer Baker, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast and panel organizer for We Need Diverse Books reviewed Fierce in July and kicked off a discussion on the Reading While White blog . NCTE member Pernille Ripp’s joined in on her blog.

These discussions are complicated but one takeaway is how we choose texts for our students. The NCTE Statement on Censorship and Professional Guidelines notes:

“Teachers of English language arts must make daily decisions about materials and methods of instruction, choosing from increasingly broad and varied alternatives in order to serve students who are themselves increasingly diverse, both linguistically and culturally…Whereas the goal of censorship is to remove, eliminate or bar particular materials and methods, the goal of professional guidelines is to provide criteria for selection of materials and methods.”

In “Challenging Accusations of Censorship,” Megan Schliesman explains selecting texts from a librarian’s point of view:

“Selection can’t (or shouldn’t) be done by rote. It requires holding the entire community a library is serving in one’s mind. It requires abandoning all assumptions about that community and striving to understand its many facets. It requires confronting fear. It requires moving into uncomfortable spaces. It requires balancing budget considerations and myriad, sometimes competing interests to determine priorities and choices…Selection is also a responsibility that is mired in subjectivity no matter how hard we try to avoid it, because it is a human activity. Even if all other factors are accounted for (and they never can be…), even the most conscientious selector brings bias to the work.”

Nina Lindsay reminds us of most important consideration in her blog about the There Is a Tribe of Kids discussion:

“What I have seen … is an invitation to think deeply and explore different points of view, a place where professionals can seek to make informed decisions about how and where and whether to use this one particular book, among many,”