Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Game That No One Wins

A Guest Blog by Jo Whittemore

A complaint by a Vancouver resident has led to the discontinuation of the Scholastic book club program in Vancouver schools. Yet, the complaint wasn’t with the program itself, but one of the books carried in the Scholastic catalog: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.

The legal counsel for the school district says the objection to the book’s perceived anti-Christian theme raised a “whole other different issue.” This issue is that “district policy prohibits (the schools) from promoting for-profit businesses.”
What about the candy bars or wrapping paper that kids sell to go on field trips to museums? Those fundraising companies get a cut of the profits. Do the Vancouver schools plan on discontinuing those educational ventures as well? Or will they wait until someone objects to the museum’s History of Evolution display and then use the “district’s policy” as an excuse to appease one narrow mind?

Because that’s what I believe it comes down to. One person’s opinion on one book is shaping the future of so many others.

The responsibility of running the Scholastic sales in Vancouver has been passed to the parent teacher associations, but this only brings to light the economic disparity between various schools. Some have parents who can afford to help out, while others lack the support necessary to keep the program going. Still other schools are posting sales on their campus websites, but many students come from lower-income families who don’t have credit cards or easy access to the Internet.

Parents are frustrated by the removal of the Scholastic book club program, and rightly so. It can be difficult to get a child to read, but when they see the colorful catalogs and hear their classmates discussing their favorite picks, they get excited and place an order, too. That’s how some readers come to be; they are nurtured in a school environment.

This is made even more complicated when there are no books in the classroom to read, since several schools stock their classrooms with free books they’ve earned from Scholastic book club sales. If you want to talk about a butterfly effect, this is it.
So, who benefits from taking reading opportunities from our students and revenue opportunities from our schools? No one.

Please, Vancouver school district. Surely, in your policy you can make a loophole for literacy.


Blogger Lisa Yee said...

What I wonder is the issue The Golden Compass or the for-profit businesses? They seem to have somehow entangled the two.

BTW, textbook companies are in it for the profit. Will textbooks be banned next?

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly? After a friend of mine got a collections notice from them, I've been decidedly less pro-Scholastic. It was over a book club she joined, and canceled, through her 1st grader's Scholastic club. Outside of the introductory package, and the package she returned to cancel it, she never received anything, not even a notice for money due, until she got that collections letter a year later. Considering the number of people who look at Scholastic as a good thing for low income people, it came as quite a shock to me to realize they send people to collections over $15. These are usually NOT the people who need that.

6:13 PM  
Blogger A Paperback Writer said...

Wait: they discontinued book sales because a few parents didn't like ONE book being sold? Presumably, no child was required to buy that book, right? So, if a parent didn't want the book, then that parent didn't have to buy that book.
Weird logic. So, by those terms, if the school library has Moby Dick in it, and a few parents don't want their kids to read it (because it's slow-moving and promotes killing animals or whatever), then the library should be shut down. This is worse than book banning. Soon they will have nowhere to get books at all.
I live in a highly religious community in Utah, but many of my 7th grade students have read The Golden Compass. Ironically, I just bought one from Scholastic this week and read it for the first time. I found it to be very much like the Stuart Hill books, an alternate reality. I can't see there's much harm in reading that, and I tell my students so. However, if a parent objects, then so be it. But that doesn't mean we should stop buying from a company altogether.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Over my long career as a librarian (21 years with Reader's Digest -- 10 years at academic libraries -- two years as a children's librarian in an upstate New York elementary school) I have been amazed by the audacity of book banners.

Fact #1: They are usually non-readers. In point of fact, they've usually never read the book(s) they want banned. (It is doubtful any of them read anything at all.)

Fact #2: They are -- if quotes attributable to them are accurate -- morons. Only morons would be so concerned with what other people are reading (or what books they are buying), which is, when you come down to it, a privacy issue. (Really, they should mind their own business.)

Fact #3: They are no different in any respect from those who burned books in Nazi Germany (or the book police in that terrific science fiction story, Fahrenheit 451) and this fact should be called out whenever these fascists call for the removal of books from school and public libraries.

Fact #4: Librarians are trained professionals who rely on reviews from other trained professionals before even one book is purchased. The morons (see Fact 2) never evaluated a book nor wrote a book review in their lives. And (see Fact 1), they don't even read books. (Doubtful they were graduated from high school, much less college.)

This is -- one continues to hope -- a democratic society in which every citizen should have his/her say, but idiocy/madness/just plain ignorance/stupidity should not be allowed to hold sway. (You don't like a certain book? Don't read it; don't buy it; pick up that well-used remote and go back to being a couch potato.)

Jo Manning, author of novels and non-fiction whose life opened up the day her immigrant father first took her hand and led her to their local public library.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It truly is a wonder how the society that we live in is so pro-freedom that many have shut a blind eye to this silent tyrant that rages through our world, burning all hopes of reading material that is objectional to one and the holy grail to another. I haven't heard one intellectual comment about for banning books and it is truly a sad sight when the banners can't even look at the material they are banning. I think one quote justify's the people who so hate these works of art that they ban them. Don't judge a book by its cover. If they do, they might as well so au revior to these hopes and aspirations of the author who put their time, thier tears, and their sorrows into the shards of wood and realese the dying hopes into the atmosphere.

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12:26 AM  
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