Category Archives: Intellectual Freedom

13+ Answers to 13 Reasons Why

NCTE Facebook has been ablaze with discussion of an article from The Atlantic.

The Netflix series of Jay Asher’s book 13 Reasons Why is causing a stir and everyone has an opinion. As of April 21, there were over 11 million tweets about the show.

Some are worried that the series “promotes suicide” while others laud the series for making real the pressures young adults feel, keep quiet, and that, often out of ignorance, adults pooh-pooh.

Others, like Tammy from the Juggling ELA blog, say the series does not promote suicide and wonder if the series were Romeo and Juliet would the complaints be so loud.

Steve Bickmore introduces Michelle M. Falter’s  post on his YA Wednesday blog this way,

“Both the posts by Susan and Michelle have me thinking about Joan Kaywell who reminds us that books save lives. They do but as educators we need to help lead the way.

Falter reminds us that,

“We need to be brave. Braver than we ever have been. Brave because our students are braver than us, and are ready to talk about these things. Kids will be watching this Netflix series with or without their parents. They will. And we can either ignore this, or we can acknowledge it. As parents, as teachers, as friends, we can and MUST have these conversations about the topics this book/series presents. Parent, educator, filmmaker, and social worker, Nina Rabhan, offers 13 insightful questions, in her review, as a starting place for this dialogue.”

She adds,

“Okay, so now that I have acknowledged this, let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why and why we should not just dismiss this book or TV series. While I certainly will not dismiss the real concern that psychologists and mental health professionals have issued around the graphic nature and potential for the series to trigger people (as I think this is a valid concern), I will push back on the idea that because of this we (parents, children, teenagers, schools, teachers, students, etc.) should not watch it or read it. I think this would be a huge mistake and waste.”

Most seem to agree that the series touches very real issues for teens—bullying and suicide—and that these issues are worth talking about so we can do something about them.

Many advocate for parents to either view the series before letting their children view it or watch it with them.

13reasonswhybook

Author Jay Asher made three important points at the Twin Cities Teen Lit Convention  in Minnesota last Saturday.

  1. He noted the novel is a cautionary tale, not a story glorifying suicide.
  2. He pointed out that, “Every scene in the book that one person has contacted me saying they have a problem with, or that they thought was irresponsible, I’ve had dozens of people say that was the part they connected with.”
  3. He noted, “I guarantee there’s nothing in that show or the book that hasn’t happened to teens. Sometimes it hasn’t happened very often, but it does happen. When we hear adults saying ‘adults wouldn’t react that way,’ I can guarantee, I’ve heard from teens who said that’s what happened when they reached out.”

What seems to be missing in most of what people are saying is the important notion that while the series may not be right for them or their children, it could be very right for someone else and their children. What’s missing from nearly all conversations are the real and poignant reactions of the young adults who’ve watched the series. Here are a few from Common Sense Media.

100,000 Forbidden Books and Counting

“Books are the maker of culture, ” notes Argentinian artist Marta Minujín, who is promising that her performance art installation, The Parthenon of Books, will be one of the top ten moments of 2017.

Built into The Parthenon of Books will be books such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. See the long list or the short list, both of which are lacking in many commonly challenged books here in the U.S., and donate your favorites that aren’t yet on the list.

This Parthenon will be a visible, participatory structure that encompasses the Athenian ideals of the first democracy and symbolizes “resistance to any banning of writings and the persecution of their authors.”  That the Parthenon was a temple to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, “reason, intelligent activity, arts and literature” is not lost on the project which will be constructed in Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, Germany, where “on May 19, 1933, some 2,000 books were burned by the Nazis during the so-called ‘Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist’ (Campaign against the Un-German Spirit).”

“A symbol of resistence to political oppression,” the finished Parthenon will actually move, as Minujín’s 1983 Argentinian version did, with the help of cranes;  and two-three times a day people will be allowed to enter and to take home a “forbidden book.”

Who Gets to Speak and Be Heard?

The first rule of free speech is that everyone gets to speak as long as they don’t break the law (like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater or slandering someone).

Yet college campuses are at siege right now over this very issue. Take the University of California, Berkeley, which is known as the home of the free speech movement.  But there, on February 1, the planned speech by Milo Yiannopoulos was ended because of riots and violence.  This week Ann Coulter’s April 27 appearance was cancelled, then rescheduled for May 2 when Coulter says she’s unavailable, and now Berkeley being sued, and Coulter is promising to show up on the 27th anyhow.

From an article by Adam Steinbaugh of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education):

“As a public university, Berkeley is unquestionably bound to comply with the First Amendment. The university itself doesn’t have to extend an invitation to any speaker in particular, but a public university — an agency of the government — can’t veto who its students invite to speak. Speech is not deprived of protection under the First Amendment simply because is viewed as offensive or hateful…

“But the First Amendment does not permit law enforcement to ban or burden speech on the basis that some people opposed to the speaker might, or are even likely to, react in a violent manner with the intent of stopping the speaker. When it does impose such a burden for that reason, it has established what is known as the “heckler’s veto.” When this is allowed to happen, it provides an incentive for protesters who wish to silence a speaker to act violently, knowing that the police will do the silencing for them. As the Supreme Court held in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), restrictions based on the expected violent opposition to a speaker would work to inhibit the expression of ‘views unpopular with bottle throwers’:

“In a balance between two important interests — free speech on one hand, and the state’s power to maintain the peace on the other — the scale is heavily weighted in favor of the First Amendment. … Maintenance of the peace should not be achieved at the expense of the free speech…”

Bookshelf in orbit around earth.

National Library Week and the Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016

This is #NationalLibraryWeek, the week we celebrate those “temples of public education and freedom of thought,” as photographer of “America’s Most Beautiful Libraries,” Thomas R. Schiff calls them.

On the first day of this Week, the American Library Association announces the Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books of 2016.

Let’s look at this Top Ten List and the commonalities about the challenged books side-by-side with the idea of libraries as “temples of public education and freedom of thought.” According to the list, all but Eleanor & Park and Little Bill were challenged for sexual explicitness—Eleanor & Park was challenged for offensive language and Little Bill was challenged because of criminal sexual allegations against the author. Four of the challenged books on the list have been challenged for their LGBTQ content/themes. Six of the books are national award winners. NCTE has participated in efforts to defend five of the books.

How can a library be a “temple[s] of public education and freedom of thought” if its books, like these, are removed or kept away from young people because someone finds them offensive? How can children open their minds through books and learn, if books are taken off the library shelves?

I don’t think they can. NCTE doesn’t think they can.

If you are experiencing a challenge to a book or other instructional material, please let the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center know.  We are here to help as you see fit.

By the way, today we’re celebrating book mobiles  and nothing could represent the spirit of a library as a “temple[]s of public education and freedom of thought” than  Roberto Murillo Martin Gomez’s Columbian book mobile.

columbianbookmobile

2017-march-policy-analyst-blog

What Happened in Your State This March?

This past month, thirty policy analysts published reports about what occurred in the following states: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

ESSA Implementation

Colorado: Stevi Quate shared Colorado Teachers Invited to Shape Policy.

Ohio: Robin Holland wrote Ohio’s ESSA Plan—Submission Delayed in Response to Public Feedback.

Vermont: Susanmarie Harrington shared Vermont Responds to the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Readers may want to visit ESSA Implementation in the States to see what your state is doing.

Higher Education

Massachusetts: Mya Poe shares UMass President Criticizes Federal Travel Ban in First State of the University Address.

Missouri: Jane Greer describes Missouri’s push to graduate college students on time in 15 to Finish in Missouri.

North Carolina: In NC College Students Have More Options, Terry McLean writes about dual enrollment, Reverse Transfer Options, High Achieving Tuition Scholarships, and NC Promise.

Ohio: Michelle Rankins describes recently passed legislation in Ohio Concealed Carry Law and College Campuses.

Tennessee: Melanie Hundley analyzes Tennessee and the edTPA.

Texas: In Texas Immigration Bill, Michael Gos describes the impact of the anti-sanctuary bill passed by the Texas Senate on state and local governments and campuses.

Funding and Budget

Connecticut: Stephen Ferruci discusses What Happens to Low-Income Students in CT?

Massachusetts: Mya Poe shares that Massachusetts college students ask for more funding and free tuition for a year.

Mississippi: Kerri Jordan describes the Funding Shortfalls in Mississippi.

Montana: Karen Henderson notes the possible closing of college campuses in Funding Proposals 2017 Legislature.

Nebraska: Deborah Minter writes Budget Shortfall Threatens Public College, Community College and University Budgets.

Oregon: In her Focus on Oregon: Budget and Free Community College, Cornelia Paraskevas describes Oregon’s budget shortfall and the ramifications of Oregon Promise assisting wealthier families more than those with lower incomes.

Pennsylvania: Due to declining budgets and enrollments, D. Alexis Hart writes about the Possible Reorganization of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).

Rhode Island: Michael Geary describes Rhode Island’s Promise: Free Tuition.

Utah: SLCC Promise Offers “Free” Community College, according to Christie Toth.

Wisconsin: Donna Pasternak writes Governor Walker Proposes Closer Monitoring of Faculty Workloads While Allowing Students to Opt Out of Fees in 2017–2019 Budget Proposal That Will Increase Funding at WI IHEs.

PreK–12

Arkansas: Donna Wake delineates various Legislative Actions in Arkansas, including a ban of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, options for education savings accounts, expansion of charter schools, and a requirement that all K-6 and special education licensure candidates take a stand-alone test in skills related to the “science of reading.”

Idaho: In Change Is in the Air, Darlene Dyer describes the legislature’s funding proposals.

Kentucky: Emily Zuccaro analyzes KY HB 250: Charter Schools.

Maine: Susan Stires reports Rural Public Schools See Choice as a Detriment to Their Communities.

Massachusetts: Mya Poe filed a number of reports: Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Approves Three New Charter Schools, Massachusetts’ Four-Year Graduation Rate Improves for 10th Consecutive Year, Massachusetts Leads Nation in Advanced Placement Success, Massachusetts FY2018 Budget Released, and Massachusetts Introduces Public Website to Search Teacher and Administrator Licensure.

Minnesota: Ezra Hyland writes about the Minnesota Senate E-12 Education Budget.

New York: Derek Kulnis posted about Renewal Schools and the Community Schools Model, New York State Eliminates ALST Test, and the increase in New York Graduation Rates.

Pennsylvania: Aileen Hower shares Wolf Administration Reacts to Proposed Cuts, Calls on US Secretary of Education to Support Investments in Public Education.

Vermont: Susanmarie Harrington suggests NCTE members in Vermont might find the Agency of Education’s weekly field memo a useful resource.

Virginia: Mabel Khawaja files A Brief Report on Charter Schools in Virginia.

Wisconsin: Donna Pasternak discusses the implications for English language arts and NCTE in State of Wisconsin Proposing New Teacher Licensure Regulations to Curtail Teacher Shortage. [Readers may want to read Peg Grafwallner’s reponse to Donna’s report titled “Of Teacher Shortages and Licensure Regulations,” posted April 14 on Literacy & NCTE.]

PreK–12 and Higher Education

Delaware: In Remediating the Need for Remediation, Christine Cucciarre describes a pilot course, Foundations of College English, to prepare high school students for college-level writing and avoid the need for remediation.

Florida: In Developmental Education and 2016/17 State Bills, Alison Reynolds provides a snapshot of various policies and legislation, including a policy that allows students to opt out of developmental courses, a focus on four-year graduation from college, a pilot program for competency-based education, and expansion of school choice.

Oklahoma: Michele Eodice and Anastasia Wickham delineate a number of aspects of the Oklahoma Budget Crisis.

South Carolina: In Reading, Writing, and Roadwork in South Carolina, Matthew Nelson shares that the South Carolina House of Representatives would divert funds from education to roads.

Federal

Minnesota: Ezra Hyland listed education cuts in FY 18 Federal Budget. In U.S. Supreme Court Rules in 2 Special Education Cases, Ezra noted the Supreme Court’s ruling that IDEA law requires that the term “educational benefit” of a special education IEP means more than minimal progress, and the remanding back to the district court of a case involving a student with severe cerebral palsy bringing her service dog to class.