A Problematic Website, Controlling School Board, and Accelerated Reader | Scales on Censorship

Pat Scales takes questions about Common Sense Media, who should select the novels taught in an English class, and more.

Many librarians and educators in my district recommend Common Sense Media (CSM) as a book review source. Can you provide updated guidance about why CSM is problematic for librarians and educators to use?
A core principle of librarianship is that professionals remain viewpoint-neutral in selection of materials and in patron services. I urge librarians to look closely at CSM’s mission and to note the prejudicial labels it places on books. For example, it states that “it makes sense to choose books that reflect the kinds of ideals you’d like your children to absorb.” Librarians serve all children and are not in the business of choosing books to satisfy a handful of parents. I’m especially troubled by this statement from CSM: “Many young skilled readers aren’t emotionally ready for some of the edgier stories in today’s chapter books, with tales of homelessness, alcoholic parents, relatives in jail, parental death, etc.” In fact, most children who aren’t “emotionally ready” for books that deal with these topics will simply reject them. That’s why libraries must provide books that satisfy all reading interests and needs.

There are many tools librarians can use to select books. Any website that focuses on “controversial” topics and rates books accordingly isn’t a professional tool. The age recommendations from CSM are often in conflict with those by most professional reviewers and practicing librarians and teachers. Also, most CSM reviewers don’t have a background in children’s literature or librarianship. The fact that a person is a parent or journalist doesn’t make them qualified to review children’s books. Librarians must stick to professional review journals where unbiased reviews are the focus.

The school board in my district wants to examine how high school teachers select books they teach. They proposed a committee of three English teachers to pick all novels taught.
It sounds like the English teachers in your school district have fallen victim to a school board that is embracing concerns about critical race theory and LGBTQIA+ books that have come under attack by politicians across the nation.

Politicians shouldn’t be in the business of book selection; nor should a committee of three teachers select the books to be taught in all English classrooms. English teachers may have various criteria for deciding which novels to teach, and they should be allowed to determine which books are best for their objectives. This should be stated on the syllabi they distribute at the beginning of the school year.

The English teachers should be incensed that the board doesn’t trust or respect them enough to select books. Now is the time for them to speak up. Some may fear repercussions if they protest, but they know the curriculum better than the board. Their voices need to be heard. Look for guidance from NCTE.


I’m a librarian in an elementary school in a relatively small district. Our new principal came from a district that uses ­Accelerated Reader (AR). He asked why we didn’t use it and wasn’t satisfied with my reasons. How would you answer?
Students shouldn’t be treated like they are on a production line. Some are naturally competitive, but many aren’t. Requiring them to take tests on every book they read kills the joy of reading. AR is misused in many schools and often becomes a restrictive tool. When this happens, a child’s right to read is violated. Reading shouldn’t be rewarded with points, cheap prizes, or pizza parties, but with another good book.

Point out the reader guidance practices in your ­library. Ask the principal to come in and observe student ­responses to book talks or a read-aloud session. Encourage him to watch as students explore the library to find books that interest them. Ask him to talk to students about their favorite books. The teaching of reading should be in the hands of teachers. Reader guidance must be in the hands of librarians and teachers. No computer program can substitute for human interaction.

Send questions to pscales@bellsouth.net.

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