Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Guidance or Censorship?
We had an interesting situation arise yesterday in the library. The newest issue of this magazine arrived, announcing itself as the "Queer Issue." The Q-word was printed front and center on the cover, over a photo of a curved torso, and inside were lots of artistic photos, many of them nude. Males, females, undergarments, complete lack of garments -- you name it.
There's always a bit of tension in a school library between free expression of ideas and suitability. We have to think about age-appropriate content -- particularly for our youngest readers, in fifth and sixth grade. When this magazine crossed my desk, I thought, "Is this really appropriate for the school library?"
I've already mentioned our red-dot system, which marks books that are appropriate for younger readers. Personally, I hate that system, because it's not comprehensive (many, many books that would be fine for younger readers do not have a red dot) but the theory is that we need something to guide us and discourage kids from checking out books containing overt sexuality and mature themes.
At the same time, I hate discouraging kids from reading anything, and the civil libertarian in me wonders if it's so bad to have them check out a book containing sex. Isn't this queasiness merely a remnant of my puritanical American mindset? Why do we let kids check out many books containing violence (as surely those sword-wielding fantasy novels must) but balk at sex and relationships? Is it so terrible for fifth- or sixth-graders to see artistic nudity?
I admit that sometimes I am flexible about the red dots. I might not let a fifth-grader have "Lolita" -- not that they'd understand it anyway -- but if they give me a verbal assurance that their parents won't mind I'm pretty likely to give them what they want.
In the case of the magazine, though, I didn't put it on the rack. (We don't put out the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, either.) I kept it and circulated it among the teachers, and afterwards it will go to the high school art department with the rest of the back issues. There, at least, it's likely to encounter only readers of an appropriate age.
(Photo: A girl on a scooter in Golders Green, last weekend.)