Thursday, May 10, 2007

Are you familiar with PABBIS?

Perhaps inspired by Fahrenheit 451, perhaps inspired by the lingering conversations over the The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson controversy, I did a little google search and found an almost unbelievable website.
PABBIS stands for Parents Against Bad Books In Schools. (Now I could understand if there was a group called TABBIS or SABBIS standing for Teens Against Boring Books in Schools or Students Against Boring Books in Schools. I would probably have been among the numbers. My own group (of two) was LAASR. Library Aides Against Shelf Reading.)
Overview of PABBIS can be read as either a pdf file or powerpoint presentation. I encourage you to do so...not because I agree with them. But because it's best to learn about them based on what they say about themselves.

You might be shocked at the sensitive, controversial and inappropriate material that can be found in books in K-12 schools. Both in the classroom and library. Parents should be aware of what their children can or must read in school to decide whether it is appropriate for them or not.

Bad is not for us to determine. Bad is what you determine is bad. Bad is what you think is bad for your child. What each parent considers bad varies and depends on their unique situation, family and values. The main purpose of this webpage is to identify some books that might be considered bad and why someone might consider them bad. Another purpose of this webpage is to provide information related to bad books in schools.

In considering what is a good/bad book consider the following:

Age appropriateness

Good taste

What are educational goals/objectives and does book achieve them?

Is book relevant to curriculum, standards of learning, program of instruction?

Is this particular book necessary? Are other books without bad content equal or better in doing the job? Which ones were considered?

The website then proceeds to list hundreds--if not thousands--of books that are potentially "bad" or "dangerous" for your child/teen to read. They also encourage parents to become active within their community by challenging books in their schools' libraries. Here is their what to do page.

The general flavor will be that the book will be assumed good and you must prove it not. Here are some questions to keep in mind regarding why the book was selected for use:
- What are the course/library objectives?
- Were any alternative books available and/or considered to achieve the course/library objectives? If so, what were they?
-What sources were consulted in identifying potential alternative books to achieve the course/library objectives?
- If other books were available and/or considered why was this book selected and all other books rejected (censored)?
- If less controversial books were considered and rejected (censored) explain why.
- What is name and position of individual who approved the book for school system use?

The thing I find most fascinating about this website is that they accuse the school library system of censorship. They make themselves the victims. Their values. Their morals. Their beliefs are being censored from the library. The presence of "bad" books over the presence of "good" books makes a case for censorship in their opinion.

Typically I have remained quiet about this issue. Never been one to thump books and shout out opinions. My opinion on "challenging" or "banning" books is this: it is ridiculous and counter-productive. The best thing to do about a controversial book--if you object to it--is nothing. Draw no attention to it. Don't protest its presence in the libraries. Don't talk about it. Don't write letters of complaint. Ignore it completely. Pretend it doesn't exist. When you challenge a book or protest it, you draw attention to it that it (almost) never would have received otherwise. Sure it might have been read by a handful of students over the course of a year, but challenging it makes it appealing. It brings attention to it. Suddenly there is an interest there. A desire to read something that someone has labeled "bad" or "inappropriate" or "dangerous." Essentially you're saying, "Read this book" when you challenge it. Making it unavailable at the school library will make it something that will fly off the public library shelves. Or the bookstores for that matter. Sometimes a book being "banned" is good for the author. Good for business. Sales increase. Interest increases. They become more read, more popular. They become more famous. There is no way to make a "challenged" book unavailable. And that's a GOOD thing.

I also think it's a misnomer for a book to be labeled "banned." Most people think the word makes it official. National, even. A book could be taken off the shelves in one school district's libraries but be available in EVERY other school library across the nation...and available in public libraries...and bookstores...and whatnot...and still wear the label "banned." It could have been removed for one year or semester, and later placed back on the shelves. Yet it will wear the title "banned" for life. So it is a bit misleading.

There are several different issues going on here. It is one thing to have a book available as part of the library's collection. Another thing to make it required reading for every student within a class or grade. A parent could legitimately not like one of the required books and request an alternative be provided for their son or daughter. But here is the thing...anytime a parent makes it about more than their becomes wrong. It is not one parent's right or responsibility to monitor another parent's child. If they want to be active in monitoring their own child's reading material up into the teen years, fine. Let them. Let them have a say in what their child reads and brings home from the library. Let them be vigilant about it. But that parent has no right to dictate what other students are reading in the classroom or library. Because one parent finds homosexuality offensive in a book, suddenly, the whole school is deprived of that book? Because one person finds violence offensive, the whole student body is denied their right to read it? Who says that the most vocal parent wins the day?

Do parents have the right to monitor what their own child reads? Sure. I'm not really an advocate of strict sheltering though. Why? If you've raised a child for twelve or fifteen years and you still don't trust them to make their own decisions...then you didn't do something right. If you've got a fifteen or sixteen year old child and you haven't taught them your own morals and's a little too late to be concerned. If you're afraid that your son or daughter will pick up a book like Speak (or any other so called "bad" book) and become inspired to give alcohol a try...then you've missed the point of everything. Parents are supposed to be raising kids to be responsible and independent. If the values haven't "stuck" yet...and you've got a've got a lot more worries ahead of you than worrying about the language in a book. About the sexual content of a book. If you've raised your son or daughter to *share* your particular views on sex, drugs, drinking, smoking, then exposing them or allowing them to read widely won't hurt them. If they *know* premarital sex is a sin, then reading a book won't convince them otherwise. If they know to say no to drugs, then reading a book about a person who makes different choices (and who usually comes to regret those choices) won't change their minds. Parents should realize that reading a book about a person who does "bad things" won't make your child into a person who does "bad things." If you've raised a child to be smart and to think for themselves, then there is no book that is TOO dangerous. Trying to shelter kids/teens from the 'real' world is more dangerous than allowing them access to it. The key is discussion. It would be better to have them read a book and discuss it with adults...than to never be allowed access to it. If the racism in a book makes it "dangerous" then I say not reading it and discussing it--its implications, etc--is far more dangerous. To pretend that racial atrocities never happened is more dangerous than exposing your kids to the truth of it. They need to see where we've been in order to appreciate how far we've come in society...and how much further we need to go. They need to be exposed to injustice. To violence in some situations. Otherwise, how will they ever learn to deal with the world? Here's the thing, kids and teens should be allowed to think for themselves. If the teen isn't comfortable with a book, they won't read it. They won't be interested in reading it if it is offensive to them. And as far as classroom requirements go, there is usually a value in a book that makes small offenses seem petty when you look at the big picture. If there is one thing I'd like to get across about ANY book, is that you should judge it as a whole. Look at the whole book. Weigh its value. Weigh its merits. Determine its strengths. Its weaknesses. Examine its message. Does the presence of a four lettered word really destroy the value of the whole book? Isn't there a bigger picture? If a book's message is that racism is unjust. That racism is wrong. That the human race is cruel. That a person's worth isn't determined by the color of their skin. Isn't that more important than the presence of a racial slur. Isn't showing the harshness and cruelty of it more important than sugarcoating history? Should we really pretend that all races have always got along? That we've always lived in harmony? That we've never called each other names? That we've never done cruel, hurtful things? Isn't the harsh truth better than sugarcoated lies? Isn't it better to discuss the reality of the world instead of presenting a make-believe world where there are no problems? Does Elsie Dinsmore really have more to offer teen girls than Melinda does from Speak??? Seriously.

Obviously, not every book is appropriate for every age group. What is appropriate for a high school wouldn't be appropriate for an elementary school. What a 17 year old should be allowed access not what a 9 year old should have access to. There is common sense involved. But for the most part, I think librarians use common sense.


web 11:58 AM  

PABBIS uses my gay & lesbian children's books bibliography as source material for what-to-hate. I'm so proud.

Anonymous,  4:31 PM  

The tone of that "what to do" page reminds me a lot of the tone of a letter I got recently from a parent. Like they suspect every teacher's goal in life is to traumatize their kids or something.

I sent out a permission slip saying that the MPAA is an American association, and as a result, most French movies aren't rated. I show a French movie once a month in my French class, and most of them have no rating. I try to choose movies I think would be PG-13 or below (the usual guidelines at my school) and I think that if anything, my choices lean more towards the G side of things. I got this rude letter from a parent saying, "There are plenty of good movies rated PG and below! Do the work to find them!" It's like he didn't even READ the permission slip that said NO THERE ARE NOT MANY PG FRENCH MOVIES OR MANY RATED FRENCH MOVIES AT ALL. So his 2 teenage kids have to go do an alternate assignment in the library when we watch Asterix or Tintin, which are geared towards the 8 to 12 range and would surely be rated G. Absurd.

Anonymous,  2:49 PM  

I found it, and your site, quite by accident (although I heartily approve of yours). Pabbis is absolutely ridiculous--I can't believe they would even consider working against The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which has very little content that could possibly be considered objectionable. It's an excellent book that contains far more good than bad. There is one sexual situation, but it does not go into detail and is relatively tame.
--Kate, age 12

Anonymous,  6:22 PM  

Wow. After I looked at PABBIS, I thought I was transported to the Middle Ages. Anyone ever read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Well it does use the n-word on every page, but the nvoel actually criticizes racism. In fact, Huck is best friends with a black man, Jim, and grows to love him as a father figure. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, the black protagonist, Tom, is a Christ figure. And PABBIS criticizes the book for vulgar, racist terms..Ironically, the books on that list are the ones I've read in school! Yeah, it's a very liberal school..

BioPeach 10:22 PM  

I know this is an older post- but I love it. I just discovered the Pabbis site and I was nearly shaking with anger- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?
Huckleberry Finn?
This is America!

Lumi Laps,  11:45 AM  

Let's face it - - PABBIS and similar sites are simply a time-saver for parents. Libraries, schools, publishers are always telling parents to monitor their own children's reading for themselves. If you have a couple of kids who actually read, it's very difficult to monitor or keep up, much less read ahead. If libraries and schools refuse to act "in loco parentis" anymore, and the parents are trying to do the work of parents, then how can you criticize them? As institutions refuse to monitor, it makes responsible parents look draconian - - we just want to be able to keep with the kids' reading choices!

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