Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Occult" Concerns Gets SC Summer Reading Program Cancelled

This is a pretty good example of the fine line teachers and librarians must walk these days if they want to encourage kids to read for pleasure. A public library in South Carolina created a voluntary summer reading program with six weekly sessions. One of the sessions included astrology. But that got some parents upset. They created an uproar and got the whole program cancelled.

Sadly, we at AS IF! get reports of this kind of thing happening again and again, all over the country.

Here's one writer's take:

The Pickens library planned a reading program in Easley for grades 5 and up called “You Never Know at Your Library.”

There were six weekly sessions planned — featuring the theme of mystery and suspense — plus a pizza party at the end.

Then some parents began screaming bloody murder.
Seems like one session focused on — egads! — the occult.

The June 14 meeting called “What’s Your Sign?” included this description: “Get to know your inner cosmic being through astrology, palmistry, numberology (they probably mean ‘numerology’). Partner up to practice palm-reading, or try your hand at tarot cards.”

That peeved some parents.

Marguerite Keenan, Pickens County library system director, was quoted by Greenville News writer Ginny Johnson as saying she got phone calls from parents who said the session was “promoting witchcraft and teaching other religions.”

Yikes! Hide the kids, Martha!

I could understand parents complaining about the lack of educational content in a session discussing such phony-baloney stuff as tarot cards.

But it’s extreme to say the library was promoting witchcraft and other religions.
Let’s assume the protesting parents were well-intentioned. But I think it’s fair to say most people believe astrology and fortune-telling are superstitions — not genuine religion.
Elevating palm-reading and astrology to the level of religion gives such superstitious stuff a respect and dignity they don’t deserve.

In addition, it's improper for a few protesting parents to dictate what is appropriate for ALL children in the community.

After all, no child was REQUIRED to attend this completely volunteer reading program.
Any parent who was offended by a session could have kept junior at home that day and have him watch "Married With Children" reruns on TV.

Library officials said they chose the content of the sessions based on similar programs nationwide and by popular demand.

Fair enough. But instead of sticking to their guns, library officials decided, based on a couple of dozen complaints, to get rid of the June 14 session.

But wait! They didn’t stop there: They killed the ENTIRE reading program.

But wait again! They kept the pizza party at the end.

Get it? Here's a summer reading program that requires no reading but offers a pizza party originally designed to reward those who dutifully read books throughout the program.

Shall we laugh at this or cry?

How ironic that the name of the program was “You Never Know at Your Library.”


Library officials said they kept the pizza party because that probably was the only thing that wouldn’t offend local sensibilities.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not have religious objections to Tarot reading myself, but as a Tarot player, I am disappointed at what appear to be one-sided presentations of Tarot cards only in terms of divination.

Tarot cards, according to playing card historians, were not originally designed for fortune telling. They were created for playing a type of card game similar to Whist. Tarot card games are still played today in France, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. There also appears to be a small but growing number of players outside Europe.

If public educational institutions foster the notion that Tarot is only about divination and the occult, then they are not doing the job for which we pay them.

I think that taxpayer funded institutions such as public libraries and public schools which are designed to educate the public should give equal time to the card playing aspects of Tarot. Tarot is often presented in this country only as something to accept or reject in terms of its alleged accuracy in predicting the future. When other options such as card playing are being supressed, one is not actually free in how one views or uses the cards.

I must ask why must all presentations of Tarot in this country have to be occult related? Why do we not expose the young people to actual card games played with Tarot decks? Teens should be aware that Tarot cards are not just used for the occult or for divination. We should teach teenagers the rules for Tarot card games too. It is highly possible that young people may come to prefer the card games over the divination practices. They should be given an informed choice. We should educate young people about all aspects of culture including Tarot and not present one sided depictions of these matters.

I do not wish for these Tarot presentations to be banned or cancelled as they have in some parts of the country, but I do think they should be more balanced by including some information regarding Tarot's role in the history of card games.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with Kelly (I think) on bookshelvesofdoom's comment on this subject. I am glad that the library went medieval on them and cancelled the entire program. It is much better to cancel the entire program and create a lot of bored, angry, disappointed people who might then be willing to take on the zealots and tell them to butt out and mind their own children's business. Too often the cranky minority wins because no one really cares enough about one session in one summer's library program, so no one takes them on.

I hope someone will follow this and see how the community responds. Maybe they just don't care. Maybe they are all sitting home watching tv and they only come out for the pizza anyway.

7:16 AM  
Blogger SafeLibraries® said...

Cancelling a summer program over teaching astrology is silly. I say the library should have countered with an astrology week, a Harry Potter week, a Tango Makes Three week, a Huckleberry Finn week, a To Kill a Mockingbird week, and a Geography Club week.

(But not a Looking For Alaska or The Chocolate War week or any other book that contains sexually inappropriate material UNLESS such sexually inappropriate material is specified and parents, have been given accurate information, then make an informed choice to allow their particular children to read that particular book. Once properly informed, I'll make a bet some parents would not allow their children to read such books. So, just for reasons of potential voluntary exclusion, I would not think books containing such material would be great for a summer reading program.)

And Oudler's point is interesting. Learn more about Tarot cards and games here:

3:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What an incredible site! I just found you (through some mindless websurfing, I'm ashamed to admit!) and as the mother of a 10 year old avid reader, wanted to voice my support for your very worthy mission.
We keep all our books (from Aesop to Woolf) within reach of our daughter, the only caveat that she must at least let us know what she's reading so we can discuss it as a family.
I am continuously amazed that anyone would want to limit a child's access to knowledge, and feel strongly that the task you have undertaken should be supported, heralded, and endorsed as much as possible. Thank you!

10:04 AM  
Blogger Lisa Yee said...

I'm laughing AND crying over this one.

6:20 PM  
Blogger chelsea said...

Let me first say I'm always disappointed when a handful of "concerned parents" ruin a good thing for a majority of sensible people, particularly when children are involved.

But, and maybe I'm only asking because I'm a practicing pagan, why does the author have to mitigate the complainants' arguments by calling tarot-reading, astrology, and palm-reading "phoney-baloney" and "superstition?"

If educational concerns were prominent, then fine. There isn't a lot of educational reading in the palmistry or numerology department that doesn't involve a little homework, and I understand parents might not want a practicing witch coming home thanks to the local library. To each his own.

Tarot reading by itself is not a religion, just as reading palms or a horoscope does not a Satanist make. The library was not, as far as I know, planning the Rite of Spring or holding a vigil for Cernunnos. But let's make the fight for this reading program about the library abandoning the whole program over a few complaints, the parents, and their irrational fear of exposing their kids to "other religions." Let's not belittle tarot so it's just silly enough to be insignificant to an overbearing parent.

It's unfortunate the community couldn't reach a compromise; the diversity of religion could have been a beautiful thing. Now the parents have no reading program at all. Perhaps that's enough?

And a final note...

"Elevating palm-reading and astrology to the level of religion gives such superstitious stuff a respect and dignity they don’t deserve."

I'm not sure if this is meant to explain astrology is not a religion particularly, or if it's meant, again, to make astrology "no big deal" in an effort to make the parents of SC sound sillier.

Grudgingly I'll put up my hands; to each his own.

8:09 PM  
Blogger B.L. Holliday said...

I live just two counties away from the library in question. My wife works for the library system where we live. And, oh yeah, I'm pagan. You can see how I have some sort of insight into the problem here.

1) The libraries across our nation are there to help promote literacy. They're also there to promote education, in any form whatsoever. If that weren't so, there wouldn't be hordes of teenagers attacking the library computers on weekends in order to check out their MySpace profile. In the political climate of the southeast, I do somewhat question the judgment of whoever planned the program.

2) These are minors we're talking about after all. Their parents do have a right to know what their children are being exposed to and censor it at their will... to an extent. Once that child is 16 (the consensual age in South Carolina and therefore in my opinion the point at which they legally can make their own decisions), it's a different story.

3) The parents predictably overreacted. Those who complained to Marguerite Keenan need to realize that education is not promotion. Just showing kids something doesn't mean we're encouraging them to go out and do it. So, fault the library one for making the subject available without consulting their patrons, but fault the patrons for trying to shelter children from learning what's really in the world.

4) I wish you'd have put in your own take rather than quoting Paul Hyde, who has only demonstrated the kind of ultra-conservative ignorance typical of this area, if only more self righteously than I am used to hearing it.

5) The library should not have canceled their reading program. That's about the only point I completely agree with Paul on. It's hard enough to get some kids to read when they're being barraged with distractions (no wonder ADD is on the rise). About the only thing you can get a kid to read now is Harry Potter, and even then, they're skimming most of the way through. I've heard 17 and 18 year olds say that the books are stupid, that the movies are much better. I say that they're afraid to attack a near 800 page novel (with chapter separations) that might take them more than 2 hours.

It's important to recognize here that the library was promoting reading in a cunning way. Libraries all over try to interest kids in other subjects which they may have previously had no exposure. Today marks an important milestone in the case, though, as there were lines wrapped around any location that sold books at the first tick of midnight this morning. Rowling may have just caused a renaissance.

It's important to note here that the library voluntarily dropped their reading program, which is a little more than halfway through. I really hope that the ACLU is involved, and if there could be a protest, I will want to be there.

11:16 PM  
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8:46 PM  

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