During my two years serving on the Intellectual Freedom Committee, we have yet to receive a report of a book challenge. When I tell people this, they often laugh out loud. Why are they laughing? They are assuming self-censorship is so bad in our state that no one reports book challenges. We are the state where students and their librarian had to sue to get LGBTQ web sites unblocked by school filters. Our state's buffoonery usually lands us on The Daily Show, buffoonery pertaining to the same social issues that cause titles to simmer to the top of annual banned books list: namely, LGBTQ equality and sex education. Any self-effacing criticism of my leadership of the Committee aside, I too suspect self-censorship. The suspicious absence of reported book challenges tells me we have yet to turn the corner in Tennessee regarding importance of intellectual freedom. Some lights do glimmer beneath the murk. One such light is Lakisha Brinson, a librarian at Metro Nashville Public Schools. Lakisha's Banned Books Week program was so fantastic I wanted to interview her and let her tell how she got the word about Banned Books Week out of the library and into classrooms and homes. If people like Lakisha keep teaching children the value of intellectual freedom, maybe someday when I tell people we had no book challenges in my state, they won't laugh.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do at MNPS.
My name is Lakisha Brinson and as the library media specialist for Robert E. Lillard Elementary Design Center, I have the responsibility of providing venues for students to READ! This role includes collection development, teaching informational and research skills, collaborating with the teachers and staff and creating developmentally appropriate projects. Through the media center, awareness of “broad” topics has allowed the students to delve into subjects with excitement and purpose. Recently, the students’ discoveries in the area of Intellectual Freedom and Choice created a platform for the Banned Books Week activities. The complexities of this topic were presented through “student friendly” activities.
Your Banned Books Week programming was ambitious. What I admired most was you really got the message outside of the library. Could you tell us what you did and what your goals were?
As an ambitious educator, it is my responsibility to assist students in gaining knowledge about relevant matters. The goal for the Banned Books Week—students having an understanding of censorship, intellectual freedom and its relevance—provided a meaningful way to accomplish this. Through this effort some of the most popular books would be "banned" without warning: Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Playmakers (Sports), etc. The approach used for accomplishing this task was Project Based Learning (PBL) which offers an essential question, entry event and a final product or project. As the students entered the library, signs were posted denoting certain books were not available, as well as tape being used to prohibit selecting the most popular books. The essential question—"What is Intellectual Freedom?"—helped to initiate interests and set the purpose. Students were to design and produce a persuasive article and a Freedom to Read poster at the conclusion of the study. Through a collaborative effort with Pam Black, art specialist, signage was created and placed throughout the building to promote Banned Books Week. All classroom instructors were given the following plan/ideas:
- Monday: Introduce the vocabulary (censorship, banned, and intellectual freedom) along with a writing prompt.
- Tuesday: List reasons for banning a specific book by using a T chart (graphic organizer).
- Wednesday: Create a poster using the theme, “Freedom to Read.”
- Thursday: Edit the writings and choose ONE to represent the class and the display wall.
- Friday: Take a gallery walk and review/read the wall.
One highlight of the week was the visit from Nashville Public librarian, Sarah Allen, for the 4th/5th grade students. The students were privy to an introduction to “alternative titles to banned books” which offered opportunities for exploring different genres and an awareness of other titles in the media center that had been previously overlooked.
What was the reaction from the school administration when you first proposed the program? How did the students respond to it?
The full support of our instructional leader, Debra Thompson, allowed the program to flow with ease. She was pleased that the students would have an occasion to hear a guest speaker and that integration of one of the school wide foci, persuasive writing, was incorporated.
Reactions from the students were typical: questions, opinions and some intense emotions. However, this fueled the weeklong investigation of intellectual freedom. Throughout the week, the students began to verbalize orally and in writing their views. Their thoughts were captured and posted in the hallway for the student population to their detailed views on why books should/should not be banned. All classes were encouraged to come “read – the – wall."
How did matters of intellectual freedom first come to matter to you?
Valuing the importance of reading, I believe that individuals should have voice and choice in selecting material that is of interest to or meaningful for them. In my role as an elementary librarian, I had to really investigate what this freedom would mean for my students. After a mini-lesson that I presented, one student shared “banned books” with her mother. The parent offered support because of a series of books that she thought were inappropriate. That created an opportunity to share with that student and others the influence their parents have regarding the literature in elementary libraries. As a result of that conversation, insightful conversations were sparked.
What are big issues you see on the horizon, intellectual freedom or otherwise, relating to youth and school libraries?
It is my belief that school libraries and public libraries will always be confronted with the challenge of determining “who has the right” to decide what is appropriate for another individual. The first amendment is constantly referenced in political and governmental issues regarding the “right to speak.” Does that include the “right to read?” However, one issue that school librarians face is the “digital world” and having the funding to support the demands of technologically literate students. If we are to prepare students to compete in the global economy, then funding must be provided to support the efforts!
Obligatory closer: what's your favorite banned book? The Bible is one that has been the focus of discussion in many countries. It would be the one book that I would not like to see banned from any place.