Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's Not Censorship, It's Parenting! -- Best Explanation Ever for What's Wrong With the American Library Association and its Effect on Public School Libraries

Below is the best explanation ever for what is wrong with the American Library Association [ALA] and its effect on public school libraries. It provides further evidence why Banned Books Week is a fraud (some call it "National Hogwash Week").  It corroborates many resources I have provided, such as what Naomi Wolf and others have said about recent trends in young adult literature.

READ THIS CAREFULLY, SLOWLY, AND ABSORB IT, LET IT SINK IN, BOOKMARK IT, and consider forwarding this article to others then acting accordingly within your own communities. Every PTA member should see this, indeed the entire community may be interested.

No more will the ALA propaganda fool you since you will be aware of its tactics and informed of the truth:

"It's Not Censorship, It's Parenting! Removing Books That are Inappropriate For Our Kids is Not the Same as Banning Books," by Erin Manning,, 18 November 2009, reprinted with permission:

It’s Not Censorship, It’s Parenting!

Removing books that are inappropriate for our kids is not the same as banning books.

During the last week of September every year, the American Library Association holds what it calls "Banned Book Week." The purpose of this week, the ALA says, is to highlight "...the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."

It sounds like a noble endeavour, right? In this day and age I think it would be hard to find people who would actively support the notion of outright censorship. Yet we know that at other times and in different kinds of regimes around the world this dedication to free speech has not always been the rule. Keeping the principle of free speech safe requires vigilance; if people in America really were seeking to ban books--to forbid their printing or sale, for instance--it would be important to focus on their efforts and to raise awareness about them.

But that kind of "banning" isn't what the ALA is talking about at all.

In fact, according to their website, the ALA's Banned Book Week is really called "Banned and Challenged Book Week.["] A "challenge" to a book occurs when someone objects to some of the content of a book, and, most of the time, asks that the book be removed from children's access. Parents were responsible for 57% of such challenges between 1990 and 2008, and an astonishing 70% of the challenges involved books that were either in a school classroom or a school library. Moreover, nearly a third of challenges made to all books (including books aimed at adults) were made because the challengers found the materials to be too sexually explicit.

Now, if the vast majority of challenges to books involve parents, centre around books available in schools, and deal with such issues as sexual explicitness, offensive language, or the unsuitability of the books for a specific age group, then I think we're no longer talking about book-banning or censorship. I think we're talking about parenting.

The attitude of the ALA is that a parent only has the right to censor or control what his own children read. He doesn't have the right to request the removal from the school library or classroom shelf those books which he finds obscene or dangerous to morality, because someone else might prefer for his children to read those books. The school alone has the final say in what books are appropriate for the children under its care to read, and if a child reads at school a book or books which his parents absolutely forbid at home--well, then, perhaps the parents' values are too narrow and restrictive to begin with.

Here's the dilemma for parents, though--there was a time when we could trust schools and libraries to support, for the most part, the same values we ourselves held, and to abide by community standards of morality and decency. There was a time when it would have been just as unthinkable to the librarian or the school teacher as to a parent that a book for children would have contained the following things:
  • --Graphic language about sex, drinking, drugs; laced with profanity and written in "chat speak" (TTYL by Lauren Myracle)
  • --Violence, implied sex, anti-religious and anti-Christian messages throughout; God is literally killed (His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman)
  • --Prostitution, witchcraft, voodoo, devil worship (Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya)
  • --Homosexuality, drugs, suicide, sex, nudity (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky)
  • --Sex, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, profanity, smoking (Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar)
These are some of the objectionable content found in just five of the ten most frequently challenged books for 2008. Given that most challengers are parents and most challenges involve books in school libraries or school classrooms, I'd be much more worried about society if books like these were never questioned at all.

Many of the challenges to these books are due to their presence on middle school bookshelves (or even in class assignments); middle school students can be as young as eleven years old. And yet the ALA views parental challenges to these books as being somehow akin to book-burnings and government censorship, as if there were no legitimate reason why a group of parents might not want their children reading novels in which gratuitous and explicit sex, violence, drug use, and the like were major elements of the story.

The fact is, there are plenty of good reasons to object to books with these content elements in them, especially when such young children are the ones who have access to these books. Even if the works rose to great literary heights parents would not be out of line to ask that they be moved from the middle school library; but most of these books are not, frankly, works of much merit at all. They are the fiction equivalent of mindless TV programs, complete with pandering, fantasy, commercialised writing, and shock value in place of decent storytelling, a well-developed plot, interesting and three-dimensional characters, and some idea of consequences for actions.

To put it bluntly, the ALA puts itself in the position of defending lousy, substandard, second-rate writing that would probably not even be published in the first place, were it not for the insatiable appetite for inappropriate content usually euphemised as "dark"or "edgy" by the sort of pre-teen who thinks angsty, brooding, sparkly vampires are a good idea. And they cast parents in the role of villains, as if their well-founded concerns about the content and merit of these books were on a par with Nazi book-burning efforts.

It is clear that in many instances the library and the school, as political entities, no longer share the cultural values of the vast majority of parents. We are living through a time of cultural divide--and whether you think it's a good or a terrible idea for novels aimed at eleven-year-olds to contain sex and violence -- is largely going to depend which side of that divide you and your family is on.

Because we no longer live in a world where it would be unthinkable for an authority figure to give a child a book in which depictions of sex, violence, drug use, profanity and the like are major elements, it is no longer safe to delegate the choice of reading material for our children to such entities as the school teacher or school librarian. Because we no longer live in a time where giving a child a book like that would be considered either child sexual abuse or contributing to the delinquency of a minor, but instead is supported with smiling approval by the moral midgets at the ALA, parents have to be more vigilant than ever. Because we no longer live in an era where we can trust the authority figures in our children's lives to share our values and foster the same view of morality and decency which we ourselves have, we can't afford to let our children read whatever trashy novel they pick up at school.

It isn't censorship, to teach our children that they can't trust their teachers or librarians to give them good, wholesome books. It's just the fallout from our fractured culture, which insists on calling evil, good--and then handing it to children.  

Erin Manning is writer living in Fort Worth, Texas. She blogs at And Sometimes Tea.

Copyright © Erin Manning. Published by Republished by with permission. You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only.


See also, "Most Oppose Explicit Books in Public Schools Says Harris Poll."


This blog post was cited approvingly here:
See also:


  1. It's true that parents have a right, and a duty, to play a role in choosing their children's reading material. What's not so clear is whether a parent has the same right to play a role in choosing the reading material of other people's children. Requesting that one's own child be exempted from reading a particular book is parenting. Demanding that no child in the school read the book is censorship.

    It may not be a true ban, in the sense that the book will still be available in bookstores and public libraries, but for children in the neighborhood where I grew up, going somewhere else just wasn't an option. We didn't have transportation to go to the public library, and even if we could get to the bookstore, we couldn't afford to buy anything. For kids like my former classmates and myself, removing a book from the school library meant we had no access to it. It was no different than if the book were banned all over the country. For us, the result was the same.

    I love that parents want good things for their children. I love that parents want to be actively involved in their children's education. But interfering in the education of other people's children is taking it too far.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Beth.

    I think the ALA has been successfully in propagandizing people to believe what you just said. The ALA is the organization with the most influence in choosing the reading material of other people's children. Yet you say, "What's not so clear is whether a parent has the same right to play a role in choosing the reading material of other people's children." Do you see the difference?

    Why is it the ALA gets off scot free with its anything-goes method of choosing reading material for children, even making lists of books similar to books it admits are substandard? Then let a parent finally catch on that the ALA award winners contain oral sex, for example, and that person is derided as a "censor," and people like you question whether parents have the right to say what other kid's read.

    "Requesting that one's own child be exempted from reading a particular book is parenting." That's correct. But why are we here in the first place? Why aren't people asking why so many books for children contain inappropriate material for children? Why are people recommending such books for children without providing notice as to the material's contents? The best book of the year in 2006 for 12 year olds and up contains oral sex and anyone who complains is a "censor"?

    Beth, do you see how the ALA has been successful in totally turning the tables 180 degrees? I realize I cannot deprogram you in this comment, but would it not be fair to also ask why the ALA says a book containing oral sex is the top book of the year for 12 year olds and up? Isn't it fair to wonder why schools have materials reconsideration policies if anyone who brings a complaint under the policy is immediately labeled as a "censor"?

    Ask yourself, Beth, how can parents exercise control over their own children if the ALA is misleading them as to the contents of various reading material and the ALA is the leading source for reading recommendations? Is that fair?

    Indeed, why are librarians making reading recommendations in the first place--shouldn't authors? Teachers? Principals? Superintendents? Professors? I recently supported a teacher making such decisions. Sometimes when librarians make the decisions, disaster results.

    "But interfering in the education of other people's children is taking it too far." Perhaps, but did you know librarians also interfere in certain circumstances? For example, books by ex-gays are routinely kept out of public schools. Only, when librarians do that, the term "selection" is used instead of "censorship." But, if you think keeping children from inappropriate material is "censorship," than isn't keeping children from material on ex-gays also "censorship"?

    Beth, think.

  3. Well, SafeLibraries, I consider myself well and fully patronized. Well done.

    Had your post been even a little bit civil, I might have been interested in entering a discussion with you on the merits of books with "objectionable" material (chief among them being that children in today's world are living "objectionable" stories every day). However, you've made it clear that you have no interest in a dialogue, so I'll bow out.

  4. Actually, Beth, it looks like you are quitting. It looks like you do not want to face the issues I raised. I urge you to continue talking.

    A substantive issue you did raise was this: "the merits of books with 'objectionable' material (chief among them being that children in today's world are living 'objectionable" stories every day)."

    Yes, but that is not the most important issue. On that issue you raised, I agree with you. But on the key issue, the merits of the books are irrelevant.

    The issue is the false claims of censorship and banning when people attempt to use common sense to keep inappropriate material from children. The problem is the ALA misleads people as to the contents of the materials, then beats them down when they catch on they've been misled. Parents should be given all the facts to make an informed decision, not be browbeaten for figuring it out on their own.

    A library association should not use misinformation and browbeating as the means to force communities to accept material it is perfectly legal to keep from children (example). It's like ClimateGate--the scientists used misinformation and browbeating as the means to force communities and countries to accept the false view that people are responsible for global warming.

    Beth, you are starting from the presumption the ALA is right and the parents are out of line. It's the opposite. The parents and communities know what's best, and the ALA is out of line for misleading those parents, such as with top awards for books containing oral sex.

    Oral sex, Beth! For 12 year olds! I personally got the ALA award-winning author (and former ALA employee) to admit he would not even give his own award winner to his own 12 year old if he had one! The ALA should have at least provided notice that the award winning book may contain objectionable material. It did not and it won't. The root of the problem is the ALA's actions or omissions, not the parents.

    Anyway, Beth, I hope you stay involved.

  5. You are assuming that every community is homogenous in its views about what is appropriate for children. For example, the majority of objections to His Dark Materials are religious in nature. There is no language or excessive gore or sex cited.

    If religious views start getting used to decide what will be in public schools, then we are heading down a very dangerous road. The Baptists won't want anything written about saints in the schools because that's idolatry. No one but the Mormans will want their literature in schools because they have "un-Christian" beliefs.

    I can somewhat understand your objection to sex, violence and language, but the job of the librarian isn't to decide what is too much. That's the parent's job. If they do not want their child to read such material, they need to have a conversation explaining why that stuff is innappropriate and not allowed. If the child still manages to get a hold of the book, it's not necessarily the ALA or a librarian's fault. It's not our job to keep track of which kid is allowed to read which books.

    However, I do agree that we need to be careful when making reccommendations that we look at the age level the book is intended for unless the parent is there to allow the child to read above that level. Reading advisory is something that librarians take pride in being good at. We love to find things that kids want to read. We hope that one good book that speaks to them will lead them to reading more. Unfortunately, unless the parent is involved in their child's choices, we walk a very fine line in between offering the type of real life situations that kids want to read about and maintaining any kind of decency standard.

    And for the record, just because I reccommend a book doesn't mean I like or approve of that book. I would reccommend Twilight to most of the young teen girls despite privately thinking that it displays abusive relationships and poor characterization because they love it and will read it.

  6. Thank you for commenting.

    "I can somewhat understand your objection to sex, violence and language, but the job of the librarian isn't to decide what is too much. That's the parent's job."

    I am happy we agree.

    And the parents rely on the Board of Education or the superintendent or the principal in act on their behalf, perhaps even to direct the actions of the school librarians--certainly you do not think they are their own bosses, do you?

    Further, if a parent brings certain material to the attention of the appropriate body under the appropriate policy, and that body decides how to resolve the issue, what place is it of the ALA or people like you to say they are wrong?

    "Heading down a dangerous road"? A slippery slope is a logical fallacy I hear used again and again to excuse an anything-goes attitude. Fortunately, in public schools, it's not anything goes.

  7. The school board usually has policies in place to deal with challenges. I'm not saying that the parents are wrong to make challenges. That is what the process is there for, but they should not expect the book to be removed everytime especially when they are in the minority as to the appropriateness of the book.

    There are multiple opinions at work in these cases. There is no absolute definition as to what is appropriate for a child of any given age. I read plenty of things at twelve that you probably think are inappropriate with the full knowledge and support of my parents. The school librarian however was not as supportive and thought I should be reading Nancy Drew instead of adult books that were better written and more interesting to me.

    At 12, I read A Brave New World and Clan of Cave Bear. I may not have understood everything that I read, but the sex and language did not corrupt my mind or make me into some kind of psychopath. Reading choices are very personal. What is appropriate for me is not to someone else and visa versa.

    It's not my job to tell someone that I think something is inappropriate for them if they approach the check out with it. I shouldn't have to ask if their mom knows they are reading that because some parent will sue me for letting their kid read something "psychologically damaging" or "pornographic".

    It's the parent's job to police things, not a public or school librarian. If your kid doesn't understand why you don't want them to read something and chooses to read it anyway, you didn't explain your position well enough.

    We provide access to all sorts of materials that offend one sort of person or another. If it fits the school's selection policies and survives a challenge, then any further efforts to remove it are in fact censorship.

  8. You are incorrect about censorship in your last sentence.

    "I shouldn't have to ask if their mom knows they are reading that because some parent will sue me for letting their kid read something 'psychologically damaging' or 'pornographic'." Isn't that sad? Fear of lawsuits? Fear of lawsuits drives the anything-goes policy? By laying everything in the lap of the parents, that cuts out the fear of lawsuits?

    And that overlooks what I said before. The school is acting on behalf of the parents. It a "public" school, not a private ALA school. Your laying this in the lap of the parents leaves out the school's role here, and the librarian is part of the school.

    Further, what is cleverly not present in the argument that parents need to be responsible is that parents are misled by the ALA when they rely on the ALA to make reading recommendations. How can parents be responsible when they are misled by the ALA? The ALA gave a book containing oral sex the award for the top book of the year in 2006. If a parent relies on that award to select a book for his child, he just selected an oral sex book for his child when he might not have if he was not misled by the ALA.

  9. Then don't rely solely on the ALA. It's that simple. If you think you're going to find something in a book directed towards teens (many of whom are participating in such things (note: I wasn't one of them)), then you should read it before letting your kid read it. If you can't be bothered to read something first, then you can't cry foul when something objectionable "pops up."

    I know that if I ever have kids, I'll be using Amazon and other resources in addition to any award given to a book in order to decide if it's appropriate for my kid. I won't take my opinion as being a rule for what other peoples' kids should read though.

    I ignored the part about the ALA because that's an organization. Challenges effect individual librarians. What the ALA has to say on any given matter doesn't necessarily apply to the way individual librarians do things.

    And I have to quit this argument in favor of getting back to work. It doesn't mean whatever else you come up with is a good argument and trumps what I think is right. I just don't have time to continue to watch a blog that thinks one person's opinion is enough on which to base judgement for a whole school.

  10. Okay, Sarah, thanks for writing here. I hope you'll check in occasionally.

  11. honestly people censoring your children from the real world is wrong wouldnt you rather them learn these things early on rather than know nothing about it later in life think about it how are they going to deal with this when they grow up if they dont know anyting about it ok admititly the oral sex thing in a kids book may be a little too far but what about everything else

  12. >Here's the dilemma for parents, though--there was a time when we could trust schools and libraries to support, for the most part, the same values we ourselves held, and to abide by community standards of morality and decency.

    At this point in the article I'll admit I was excited. I expected you to go on to explore ideas of censorship, community standards, and values within creative work in light of growingly distant moral communities.

    I expected there to be some cognizance of the fact that we cannot now and will never again be able to agree upon what is or not appropriate for any given child, let alone generalize to a school, state, or national level.

    Instead it seems like you have observed a particular form of morality, one that may be more vocal than others, around you and assumed it to be correct for the duration of the article. Assuming that point this is a fantastic article, but I believe that assumption to be fundamentally flawed.

  13. I was really looking forwards to a discussion, do you have a response to my comment?

  14. Okay, I didn't realize that. Then give me some time as I'm in the middle of something.

  15. Samineru, now I know why it did not see your concern as being directed at me. The quote you provided is not mine. It belongs to the person who I quoted.

    Would you like to contact the person quoted, or would you like me to attempt to address what was said?

    Here, let me attempt to address your concern. Generally, the issue is not what's right or wrong for children. The issue is that making the decision of what's right or wrong for children has nothing to do with censorship. That's called selection, not censorship. Here, take a look at this: "School Removes Squirting Sperm Book After 8-Year-Old Complains To Her Mother."

  16. Also, I just now realized that this post is over a year old, I had gotten here from another article of yours and felt the need to respond, sorry.

  17. Here, let me attempt to address your concern. Generally, the issue is not what's right or wrong for children. The issue is that making the decision of what's right or wrong for children has nothing to do with censorship. That's called selection, not censorship. Here, take a look at this: "School Removes Squirting Sperm Book After 8-Year-Old Complains To Her Mother."

    If you wouldn't mind I would like to discuss what was said, though if you would like to invite the person quoted to this discussion they're welcome. First off however, I'd like to point out the fallacious nature of anecdotal evidence. I'm not sure entirely what you were trying to say by pointing out that particular example to me.

    You seem to make a distinction between censorship and selection as if they were fundamentally different, one good and one bad. In my eyes it seems like in both cases an organizational body is choosing to remove creative works from the public commons due to their irredeemable qualities.

    Whether we call such a process censorship or selection I think that we have to develop an understanding of the process that reflects the fact that societal morals are spreading away from any given point, no matter how central it once was. Moral consensus is a growingly impossible task, and any policy of selection or censorship seems to ignore that.

  18. Okay. About that particular example, the squirting sperm book for the eight year old, you can see it two divergent ways. 1) It's censorship to remove the book from the school. 2) It does not comply with the school selection policy so its removal is proper and is not censorship.

    Censorship is always bad, is it not? Selection could be good or bad depending on how it is applied. For example, most libraries do not carry books about ex-gays because the claim is made that the books do not meet the libraries selection policies. In reality, the books do not meet the political interests of those making the selection. Mind you, I'm not taking sides, I'm just providing the example.

    Now as to an "organizational body," selection necessarily requires that someone or some body makes a selection. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is necessary for efficient use of public resources. Indeed people vote for representatives on organizational bodies to make the very decisions needed to be made to provide, for example, a thorough and efficient education.

    Morality seems to have very little to do with the issue, except to the extent it can be used by some to claim others are motivated this way or that. When I advise people, I say morality has little to do with one thing or another. The key is the law and community standards. True, morality is embedded in both, but it is not a separate issue of concern. You argue that, essentially, selection and censorship are both worrying because they rely on the impossibility of moral consensus. That's an interesting point of view but if there is no selection, there will be no thorough nor efficient anything. Instead, it'll be anything goes, and that is the very policy of the American Library Association. See


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