Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Amendment Rights and Access to Information

I am a lucky Media Specialist. I have an aide at both schools where I work. I am thankful for that. The challenge that I am having right now is that one of my aides does not understand the student's right to access information. She is the mother of a sixth grader at our sixth through eighth grade middle school. She has had concerns about some of the books that her sixth grader has checked out. I am glad that she watches what her daughter reads, and that she is involved in her education, but the books she has brought to my attention are, in my opinion, perfectly appropriate for most middle school students. There was only one book I found that was not really appropriate for the middle school, and I sent it to the high school.

Today she brought up that she had heard that the public library has some books that parents must sign out for their children in order for the children to access them. This infuriated me. I am very much in support of students reading what interests them no matter what the material. Sure, middle school students probably shouldn't be reading playboy, but there might be a book about homosexuality that they really want to read that is appropriate. What really frustrated me about this story is that it was a young adult book that I have in the Media Center collection.

I am glad that some parents are watching what their children read, but I wonder about the kids who can't get information they need because of a permission slip. What about the student who's parents are not around for them to sign the permission slip to check out the book. This might be a book that they would really relate to and help them understand their life. It might be about content that they are personally struggling with. Sometimes reading can be an escape for students who don't have the best life. Are we really going to deny kids this escape? What about the homosexual student who has no one to reach out to? Their parents believe that homosexuality is wrong, or the child just doesn't feel comfortable approaching someone about the topic. Are we going to deny that student the chance to learn about themselves, or find a story with a character they can relate to that makes them feel better about themselves? How can we deny students these opportunities?

Another topic that my aide was opposed to was rape. These are middle school students, by this point in their lives they may very well know someone who has been raped or have been raped themselves. We can't know each child's story. We hope this is not the case, but we just don't know. I understand that this can be an uncomfortable topic, but if the story handles the rape in a productive way and it is middle school appropriate, it will be in the Media Centers.

I want the students to have access to books about many different topics so that they can find books that they are interested in. I want my students to have access to stories they relate to. I want my students to read, enjoy reading, and grow from the reading they do. How can I handle my aides lack of support for the free access philosophy? How can I support the books in the collection should another concern arise?