A project of the National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free ExpressionAssociation of American Publishers Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
19 Fulton Street, Suite 407, New York, NY 10038 212-807-6222 www.ncac.org/Kids-Right-to-Read
Kids’ Right to Read Project
Members, School Board Muhlenberg School District 801 Bellevue Avenue Laureldale, PA 19605January 14, 2014Dear School Board Members, We recently learned of a proposal to require teachers to rate books in their classroom libraries in the Muhlenberg School District. As organizations concerned with the freedom to read, we are writing to discourage you from implementing any
policy that would require teachers to “red ag” books on the basis of their content.
As we understand it, this issue arose after teachers returned from a recent National Council of Teachers of English con-ference with new books to add to their classroom libraries. One teacher was barred from distributing these books until they were read by the assistant superintendent and rated, while another teacher was able to freely distribute the new books to eager students. When the incongruity became known, the policy was expanded to include other teachers, who were instructed to identify all new books in their classroom libraries containing racial, ethnic, or religious content that might be
considered “insensitive” or ”offensive,” and books containing violence or sexual content.
At the heart of this issue appears to be a misunderstanding of the purpose and value of the classroom library. Classroom libraries are widely considered to be an invaluable asset to English Language Arts education today. These collections empower students, through personal choice, to connect with relevant, engaging texts, thereby strengthening their read-
ing prociency. Educators take great care and employ their professional judgment in curating these collections; texts are
selected because they supplement the course curriculum, stimulate interest and add complexity.
Requiring teachers to rate books is problematic as a practical matter, because it is difcult if not impossible for teachers
to guess which books might be considered insensitive or offensive. Recent news reports tell of efforts to ban or restrict books like
The Diary of Ann Frank, Persepolis, The Invisible Man, The Family Book,
The Dirty Cowboy
– to name only a few – because someone considered something in them insensitive or offensive. To others, however, the same books are deeply instructive and meaningful. To best educate students and prepare them to function effectively in the communi-ty, they must be exposed to a wide variety of ideas, including some that may make them feel uncomfortable at times. If
teachers are required to ag books with certain content, they will almost certainly steer clear of any books that might raise eyebrows, and students’ education will suffer. We are condent that your goal, as educators in a public school district, is
to provide the highest possible quality of education for all children, not to provide an education in which no one is ever offended.
Literature is more than the sum of its parts. Rating or agging books because of their content reduces complex literary works to a few isolated elements – those that some may nd objectionable – rather than viewing the work as a whole. In
short, it demands that teachers do the exact opposite of what they instruct students to do in classrooms and on exams –