Archive for the ‘"How the Mind of a Censor Works"’ Category

Diffusing an Angry Parent

August 6, 2009

The following was originally posted by Kelley McDaniel <mcdank@portlandschools.org> on the MELIBS listserv, Fri, 12 Nov 2004 20:00:28 under the subject: Dealing with a Challenge (long) 

ringing_telephone-404

This afternoon, we were showing a movie in the library after school, and I received a strange phone call from the Maine State Library saying that they had received a call from a parent earlier today asking if there was a list of books that are appropriate for schools to have. 

The parent’s child had borrowed a book from school that the parent did not approve of.  The call had been referred to a couple of different people, and it was suggested that the call be referred to me, as the Intellectual Freedom Chair of the Maine Association of School Libraries (MASL).  I was given the parent’s name (Let’s call her Sara.) and her phone number.

I immediately called Sara. She came to the phone and I introduced myself as a librarian and said that I had been called by the State Library because she had called there looking for a list of books that are appropriate for schools.  She told me the story of the book that her daughter had taken out of a classroom library, found very graphic and shared the graphic passages with her mother.  Sara had called the school and left a message for the teacher, saying that she thought the book was inappropriate for middle school; the teacher returned her call the following day and left a message for her, saying that the book was award-winning and perfectly appropriate for middle school.

I thanked Sara for her interest and concern. 

“You’d be surprised how few parents really take such interest in what their children read and take the time to talk with their children about what they read.”

I said, “You are to be commended on the relationship that you have with your daughter, such that when she read something that made her uncomfortable, she immediately told you about it, ‘This made me really uncomfortable.’”

Sara thanked me.

I told her that I had a suggestion.  “Does your daughter’s school have a library?

“Yes,” she replied.

“I was going to suggest that you contact the school librarian and share this story with her and ask her if she’d meet with you and your daughter.  Find out what your daughter’s interests are, what she likes to read.  Learn more about your family and the values that you have. Then the librarian could recommend some books for you and your daughter that your daughter would enjoy and that would support your values as a family.” 

I said, “I LOVE when people come to me with requests like that.  Those are my favorite moments as a librarian.  They give me the chance to get to know the students and their families, and the better I know them, the better able I am to serve them.  I love when I get requests like that.”

Sara said, “That’s a good idea.  I can do that Monday.  I did call the principal after the teacher left the message and the principal said to have my daughter return the book.”  Pause. “What do you think of the book?”

“I’ve read it.  And it’s a book that I have in our middle school library.  One of the things that makes libraries so important in our communities is that we offer a wide range of books.  No book is perfect for everyone and every book is perfect for someone.  That’s why it’s important for librarians to know their communities and the people they serve.  As educators, it’s our job to help connect young people with the right book at the right time.  I’m sure your daughter’s school library has many such books.  Ask the librarian to help connect your daughter with them.”

Sara said, “I don’t want the book to be removed so no one can read it.  I just don’t think it’s appropriate for my daughter.”

I assured her, “That’s called good parenting – knowing your daughter, having the relationship with her that you have, being involved in her growing up and learning.”

I left Sara with my name and phone number and invited her to call me if she had any other concerns, or if I could help her in any way.  She thanked me and I thanked her and we hung up.

I wanted to share this story for a couple of reasons:

1) In my capacity as Intellectual Freedom Chair of MASL, I wanted to model one way of dealing with a challenge.  This method comes directly from the School Library Journal article “How the Mind of a Censor Works” by Dr. Sara Fine from  School Library Journal, January 1996, pp.23-27.

2) When I spoke with Sara, what I heard her saying was NOT, “Why is my daughter being given bad books?” but “I’m scared. My daughter was exposed to something that scared her and scared me.  Is my daughter safe at school?”  The reason I heard this was because I recently had an experience that left me feeling the exact same way.  A security guard in my building told me, “Get your homosexual a** upstairs!  You’re not welcome here!”  Ever since that experience I have felt unsafe in my building and I have been scared for the safety of my own children, especially after my five-year-old daughter asked me, “Is he just mad at you or does he hate us too?”  I wanted – needed – to know that I and my family were safe.  The greatest thing done for me right after that happened was when my colleagues listened to me, heard my fear and comforted me, BEFORE they told me what to go and do about it.  So that’s what I did for Sara.

3) I learned something very important from my conversation with Sara. I listened to her. And she knew that she was being heard.  I didn’t throw in my opinions.  I kept my opinions to myself.  I just listened. What I heard was that Sara and I are more alike than different.  

 

P.S. The book in question was What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones (Simon & Schuster, 2001)