Here’s a potential book challenge for the ALA OIF to think about. A school board in Ohio that allegedly wants to teach their children to think critically is considering a new policy “recognizing that many important areas of study involve issues on which differing positions are held by individuals or groups.”
So far, so good. Supposedly, when “Properly introduced and conducted, the consideration of such issues can help students think critically, learn to identify important issues, explore fully and fairly all sides of an issue, weigh carefully the values and factors involved, and develop techniques for formulating and evaluating positions.”
That sounds almost reasonable. “All sides” of issues are worth exploring, right? That’s only fair. Then we get the list of supposedly controversial issues, some of which are “controversial” only in the sense that many uninformed people disagree with people who know what they’re talking about.
For purposes of this policy, controversial issues include: religion when not used in a historical or factual context, sex education, legalization of drugs, evolution/creation, pro-life/abortion, contraception/abstinence, conservatism/liberalism, politics, gun rights, global warming and climate change, UN Agenda 21 and sustainable development, and any other topic on which opposing points of view have been promulgated by responsible opinion and/or likely to arouse both support and opposition in the community.
For example, there’s virtually no scientific controversy over evolution, which is the only kind of controversy that matters for a scientific theory. There’s also virtually no scientific controversy over global warming or climate change.
Believing that humans have had absolutely no role in climate change isn’t promulgating a “responsible opinion.” It’s just ignoring inconvenient facts for political or economic reasons. And you’re welcome to believe that humans coexisted with dinosaurs, but you’d be mistaken to believe that’s a responsible opinion.
Apparently the same school board tried to introduce creationism into the curriculum before, and the ACLU thinks they’re trying to do it again. Hence the challenge.
But the potential book challenge isn’t necessarily about creationism. It could be about U.N. Agenda 21. I’d never heard of Agenda 21, but then again I don’t have a lot of contact with far right conspiracy theorists.
For those who don’t know, Agenda 21 is, in the words of beloved sage Glenn Beck, a “global scheme that has the potential to wipe out freedoms of all U.S. citizens,” because that’s the way people like him think.
Or, it’s a “non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development.” You can take your pick, and whichever side you pick is apparently a “responsible opinion” and should be taken seriously.
The far right conspiracy wackos must be having a hard time coming up with a good enemy. Apparently President Obama being a satanic socialist  isn’t enough, so they pick on the poor U.N.
The U.N. has clearly demonstrated its inability to effect coordinated change on just about every issue, especially at a global level. But yeah, secretly they’re going to destroy American suburbs.
The thing is, under the new policy, the Glenn Becks and Alex Jones of the world would just be people with “responsible opinions” who should be given a respectful hearing in classrooms along with people who aren’t wacky conspiracy theorists.
Or young earth creationists wouldn’t be hopelessly naive people who desperately want the earth to be 6,000 years old. Their books would just be tomes of “responsible opinion.”
The ACLU is challenging the policy, and implicitly challenging the inclusion of, say, young earth creationist books in the curriculum. What would the Office of Intellectual Freedom say?
Their usual policy is that all book challenges should be fought, no matter the reason. Porn for children is fine, because they’re unable to articulate reasons why it might not be.
They’re usually comfortable with that policy, because book challenges tend to come from the right. Some parent hates gay penguins and out come the protests.
Challenging young earth creationist books, or Glenn Beck conspiracy books, wouldn’t be political challenges. They’d only be considered political by the same kinds of people who think creationism is scientific.
Still, would the OIF fight against such book challenges? What if The Young Earth: the Real History of the Earth was introduced into the science curriculum and someone challenged it? It’s published by the renowned scientific press Master Books, by the way, so it’s been carefully peer-reviewed by absolutely no one.
Should that book be considered just responsible opinion next to, for example, Evolution from OUP? That book has “extracts from more than 60 scientific papers” and features “excellent balance and breadth of coverage.” And yet, it probably doesn’t have a paper about how the earth is 6,000 years old.
Here’s where the ACLU has it right and the ALA OIF has it wrong. The OIF, according to its policies, rejects every book challenge, no matter the reason. If someone challenged the inclusion of The Young Earth in the science curriculum, the ACLU has a principled rationale for opposing it.
Or what if a parent objected that wacky conspiracy theory books were being assigned as worthwhile reading on a topic? The ACLU couldn’t object on constitutional grounds, but educated people actually concerned with the education of their children would just object on educational grounds.
Since the ACLU wouldn’t have the case, would the OIF object to the book challenge? The OIF would either have to change its policy of “book challenge bad!” or remain silent, which is what it usually does in difficult cases.