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A Potential Book Challenge

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.

The ACLU is challenging the policy. You can read about it here, here, and here.

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 [citation needed] 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.



  1. The Librarian With No Name says:

    Overheard at the children’s reference desk: “No, honey, we don’t get books on dinosaurs. We learn about dinosaurs at church.”

    That being said, I think that the OIF’s usual stance makes much more sense when applied to a library collection rather than a school curriculum. When you’ve only got twelve years to cram as much basic knowledge as possible into a group of people with tiny child-brains, you’ve got to triage the information and try to focus on the really vital stuff. There’s nothing really wrong with spending four years teaching high-schoolers everything there is to know about entomology, but we don’t do it because we’ve got other priorities. The fact that the vast majority of human knowledge is excluded is a feature, not a bug, and the ALA’s all-inclusive approach to information doesn’t really apply.

    • Paigers says:

      Overheard at the children’s reference desk: “No, honey, we don’t get books on dinosaurs. We learn about dinosaurs at church.”

      The stupid, it burns.

  2. Stephen Michael Kellat says:


    Which of Ohio’s 600+ school districts is bringing this up? The section of the Ohio Revised Code cited for as justifying authority for this does not make sense. Section 3313.601 of the Ohio Revised Code is entitled “Moment of silence – free exercise or expression of religious beliefs.” The text here barely relates to what the policy is talking about:

    Regardless of the additions to the “controversial” list, the policy overall seems a wee bit off. Ohio has 88 counties. If you cannot name which particular district this erupted from, can you at least say which county?

    • Annoyed Librarian says:

      According to one of the articles linked above, it’s the Springboro Community City School District.

  3. Stephen Michael Kellat says:

    Thank you to the Annoyed Librarian for the reply. I can only wish for bigger link anchors and a larger screen before my current computer finally dies on me.

    Running a quick check shows that Springboro is interesting as it is a municipality that has territorial bounds in two adjacent counties. Montgomery and Warren counties are both outside the immediate Cincinnati area but are still counted as part of the Metropolitan Statistical Area. Since Springboro is a muni it means that the school district is a “city school district” class district which places it outside the oversight of an intermediate Educational Service Center like a “local school district” class entity would have.

    The furthest you can drill down with the demographics data from the Ohio Development Services Agency is with their county profiles which can be found here:

    As far as ODSA is concerned, the bulk of Springboro shows up in Warren County. Springboro otherwise is located between Cincinnati and Dayton. I’d look at the demographics data for both counties but that is as far as ODSA’s data goes. ODSA goes a little further than Census Bureau QuickFacts but they’ve got a page devoted to Springboro here giving the municipality’s demographic breakdown:

    Outside of my forgetting a Sun Tzu quote, it should be said that against the 2010 population figure of just under eighteen thousand this action could impact about 32% of the population in Springboro…which are the children aged 18 and under.

  4. So how do you and the rest of the ALA crowd feel about Obama not discarding the library provision of the Patriot Act, which he promised to do when he was the speaker at the ALA conference a few years ago?


    But keep talking about dinosaurs.

  5. Development Arrested says:

    On my last week working at a library, a man was using our conference room to sell a panacea for cancer and calling it cancer research . I was told that if we didn’t let him, we would be censoring him. In his spiel, I clearly heard him tell a woman that mammograms only cause cancer to spread.

    I knew from that moment that it was the right decision to pursue another degree than an MLS and only looked back to laugh at the people turned to salt.

  6. Development Arrested says:

    “But keep talking about dinosaurs.”

    Will do! Birds are the closest living descendant of the dinosaur. They are so closely related that most biologists consider them to actually be dinosaurs. The second closest living descendant of dinosaurs are crocodiles and alligators, which broke off quite a bit before the birds. An interesting similarity between birds and crocodiles is that they use rocks in their digestive system to aid with digestion. Since two separate descendants (one that broke off quite early, in fact) have rocks in their digestive system, it points to the possibility of dinosaurs also had them as well. Which is pretty cool!

    Thanks for figuring these things out for us science!

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