Recently, my students completed an assignment on Intellectual Freedom. Several of them focused on self-censorship as a form of censorship within schools that might limit a collection’s development to encompass a wide range of reading materials to meet the needs of all students of a school’s diverse population. A sound selection policy that has been set in place by the district based on the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights interpreted for the school library is most beneficial.
With professional reading, teachers and school librarians should be careful to not self-censor themselves by limiting their selections. Reading widely and broadly from professional, peer-reviewed sources is a good start. It is far too easy to go to the bookstore and pick up something that might be what we think we need without asking appropriate questions, such as, “Is this only someone’s opinion or has this person actually used this technique with students like the ones I have in my classroom?” We might gravitate to pieces written by people who appeal to us rather than people who have the answers. Also, we might steer away from research because it is not as appetizing to read as the narratives that we prefer. There might be other reasons for self-censoring that I am not including here, but I believe that the reader understands the point that I am making.
One way to avoid this is by taking charge of the reading that one wants to do by defining what one wants or needs to read. I have found that a plan helps. Action research, also known as teacher research, is very helpful in defining a problem and setting goals that lead to information seeking and problem solving skills with accountability. It seems to me that the United States is behind other countries in conducting this type of research that improves teaching and helps individuals answer their own questions in a professional manner. However, I believe that teachers and school librarians are taking matters into their own hands and are moving into 2.0 without the help of an administrative task force to guide them. By doing so, they are in effect beginning to evaluate themselves, reflect, and seek out more appropriate sources without resulting to self-censorship.
To begin this blog on professional reading as it applies to education and how professional reading has shaped and influenced my life, I thought I should include a tribute to one of the foundational leaders who has helped me along my way: John Dewey. Many gems many be found among Dewey’s writings that may be applied today. With the talk of cutting costs by cutting librarian positions in some school districts because of the rising price of fuel, I selected the following text from Dewey’s work The School and Society (1900, 1915, 1932). The following paragraph comes from the chapter titled “Waste in Education.”
To go back to the square which is marked the library (Chart III, A): if you imagine rooms half in the four corners and half in the library, you will get the idea of the recitation room. That is the place where the children bring the experiences, the problems, the questions, the particular facts which they have found, and discuss them so that new light may be thrown upon them, particularly new light form the experience of others, the accumulated wisdom of the world–symbolized in the library. Here is the organic relation of theory and practice; the child not simply doing things, but getting also the idea of what he does; getting from the start some intellectual conception that enters into his practice and enriches it; while every idea finds, directly or indirectly, some application in experience and has some effect upon life. This, I need hardly say, fixes the position of the “book” or reading in education. Harmful as a substitute for experience, it is all-important in interpreting and expanding experience. (p. 85)
If I may be liberal with the word “waste” here, today I find that school librarians are not valued, in general, as highly as they ought to be or as Dewey envisioned. In your experience, are students bringing their problems and questions to the school library in conjunction with the classroom where they may discuss these problems and questions with others and with the accumulated knowledge of the world? Are students interpreting and expanding upon the experiences through the use of library resources?
OR, are students conducting imposed queries about topics or reading from a restricted set of books on their tested/benchmarked reading level? Is the education we offer students limiting their interest and motivation to learn?