Reading into Racism: Bias in Children's Literature and Learning Materials

By Gillian Klein | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

Strategies for combat II: censorship or selection?

Even if resources are being acquired for a school in which every student has been equipped to recognize and challenge bias in materials—should such a school exist—there seems to be little point in buying new stock loaded with blatant pejorative bias.

In practice, librarians, teachers and heads who are concerned about bias in materials, consider it part of their selection procedure to avoid doing so. They are in pursuit of excellence—and racist or sexist books simply do not come up to standard. However, there is another argument. What right have librarians to decide what the young population may or may not read? A sanitized view of the world is unrealistic and misleading; the librarian should ensure that all views should be fairly represented. It has to be said that even in the collections of school librarians who adopt this position, copies of Mein Kampf, Did six million really die? or hard pornography are not visible on the shelves.

Such debate serves chiefly to obfuscate the central issue, and has been angrily attacked by Christine Shawcroft, a school librarian (1983).

There have been enough studies to convince of the damage done to the self-esteem of non-white middle class male children when they are continually confronted with derogatory stereotyped images. There has been enough research to demonstrate that certain expectations—say that girls can’t do maths and science, that black kids are athletic, not academic—become self-fulfilling prophecies. But the research findings will get nowhere near the children as long as the impulse to block out challenges of complexity and of change can be camouflaged by the deliberate use of this emotive term—‘Censorship’.

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