Don’t Cede Ground in the Debate
The discussion about the inclusion or exclusion of particular materials in school libraries often becomes entwined with the language of censorship, causing advocates on both sides to resort to emotionally charged rhetoric to strengthen their case.
Recently, numerous educational advocates supporting parental rights and children’s well-being have attempted to defend against the censorship label to no avail or benefit for their cause. In asserting their general opposition to censorship, they are appeasing the bad-faith actors in this debate and inadvertently ceding ground in the debate.
Focus on Facts, History, & legal Precedent
It is crucial for those championing the mindful selection of materials in school libraries to ignore the censorship label and focus on reinforcing their arguments with facts, historical context, and legal precedent. Embracing this approach enables them to reorient the conversation and emphasize the importance of age-appropriate content, harmony with educational goals, and judicious resource management.
Age-Appropriateness and Content Standards
Schools have a responsibility to provide students with materials that are suitable for their age and maturity level. This responsibility involves striking a balance between fostering intellectual growth and exposing students to content that may be beyond their ability to comprehend or process emotionally.
Removing or not including sexually explicit books in school libraries is a reflection of this responsibility. School districts must ensure that the content available to students aligns with the educational goals and values of the institution, as well as the needs and developmental stages of the students they serve.
Limited Budgets and Space Constraints
School libraries operate within strict budgetary and space constraints, which necessitates making difficult choices about the materials they include. The selection process involves prioritizing resources that are most relevant to the curriculum, most likely to be utilized by students, and most reflective of the diverse interests and needs of the student body.
In this context, the decision to remove or not include sexually explicit books in school libraries is not censorship, but rather a reflection of the realities of resource allocation. The focus is on providing students with the most beneficial and relevant materials that support their academic and personal growth.
Promoting Alternative Resources
Removing or excluding sexually explicit books from school libraries does not mean that students are being denied access to information about sexuality and relationships. School districts can provide alternative resources, such as age-appropriate health and sex education classes, to ensure that students receive accurate and comprehensive information in a structured and supportive environment.
Additionally, public libraries and online resources are available for students who wish to explore these topics further. The removal or exclusion of sexually explicit books from school libraries does not constitute censorship, as students are not being denied access to information, but rather directed to more resources outside the school library’s confines.
Throughout history, schools and libraries have been selective about the materials they provide to students. This selectivity has always been rooted in the desire to ensure that students have access to age-appropriate content and to support their intellectual and emotional development. By referencing historical practices, advocates can argue that the selection process for school library materials is a long-standing, responsible practice aimed at fostering a safe and supportive educational environment.
While the Supreme Court has ruled on cases involving censorship and intellectual freedom, it is important to note that the Court has also acknowledged the need for balance, particularly when it comes to the educational context. Three key Supreme Court cases can be interpreted as providing support for the argument that removing or not including sexually explicit books in school libraries is not censorship.
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
In the case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988), the Supreme Court ruled that school administrators could exercise editorial control over the content of a student newspaper if their actions were “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” This ruling acknowledges that schools have the right to make decisions about the content they provide to students, as long as these decisions are based on educational concerns and not an attempt to suppress unpopular viewpoints.
This case can be seen as providing support for the argument that school districts have the authority to remove or not include sexually explicit books in their libraries, as long as their decisions are based on age-appropriateness, limited budgets, space constraints, and content standards that align with their educational goals.
Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (1986)
In the case of Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (1986), the Supreme Court upheld the suspension of a high school student for delivering a speech that contained sexually explicit language and innuendos during a school assembly. The Court held that “the constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings and must be applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment.”
This case illustrates that the Supreme Court recognizes the unique context of schools and the need for a balance between upholding students’ First Amendment rights and maintaining an educational environment that is conducive to learning and appropriate for the age group being served.
Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico (1982)
In the case of Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico (1982), a portion of the Supreme Court justices agreed that students possess a First Amendment right to access information, and as a result, school boards are not permitted to eliminate books from school libraries based on political motives. However, the Court also clarified that if a book is consistently vulgar in nature, school boards do retain the authority to remove it.
While these cases don’t directly with the removal or exclusion of sexually explicit books from school libraries, they provide a broader context in which the Supreme Court acknowledges the unique challenges and responsibilities faced by schools in balancing intellectual freedom with age-appropriateness and educational goals. As such, these precedents lend support to the argument that removing or not including sexually explicit books in school libraries is not censorship, but rather a reflection of schools’ commitment to fostering a safe and supportive educational environment.
Advocates who support the careful selection of materials in school libraries must reject the censorship label and focus on presenting their arguments based on facts, history, and legal precedent. By doing so, they can reframe the discussion and emphasize the importance of age-appropriate content, alignment with educational goals, and responsible resource allocation. This approach not only counters the censorship argument but also highlights the primary concern of such advocates: the well-being and educational needs of the students.