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.)


  1. kids need to be kids...there will be plenty of time for ADULT stuff later in life.

  2. I would have been torn as well. There's a lot of gray area between guidance and censorship, isn't there? I think y'all made a good decision. I don't know if there IS a right decision.
    That picture is like the essence of loneliness to me. I WAS that little girl, playing with no one.

  3. I've thought many, many times about our American puritanical roots. I've often wondered how different our country might be if instead of coming to America for religious freedom, our ancestors had come for sexual freedom.

  4. I personally dont think nudity is inappropriate for any age. Children learn shame about their bodies and I think that's wrong. They see every other creature naked. Why is human nakedness bad? They see animals having sex so why is being exposed to human sexuality bad (not talking about porn here). nakedness is not an 'adult' thing, it is a human thing. Seeing naked human bodies does not make kids grow up too fast or make their childhood less so. a naked human body is not sinful in and of itself. The fact that we try to hide it makes it so tittilating.

  5. You're so right about violence! I read the Gregor the Overlander series of book & there was a LOT of sword play & killing involved. It's aimed at middle school kids.

  6. I would have taken it home, Looks like a lovely issue, but little kids do not need that sort of loveliness...good call.

  7. Vivian: I certainly agree, but drawing that line can be tricky!

    Ms Moon: Yeah, such decisions are tricky and perhaps never entirely right. If it makes you feel better, that girl's parents were not far behind her on the sidewalk. :)

    Sharon: Now THAT is an interesting question!

    Ellen: I agree that we treat nudity with an absurd degree of shame. If it's artistic, as these photos debatably were, that gives it a much higher degree of respectability. But some of these particular photos seemed quite...detailed, you might say, and I can see how parents would blanch.

    Bug: Exactly! Those Gregor books are very popular with our middle-schoolers.

    Linda Sue: It's an interesting magazine, though I admit that even as a photographer, I'm left scratching my head at a lot of the artwork.