A COPLAC Digital Distance Learning Course

Author: sternberg (Page 2 of 2)

Experimenting with Censorship

As a biologist, I place a high value on a well thought-out experiment. For this reason, it is logical that my favorite text we have examined thus far is  “The Reader Speaks Out: Adolescent Reflections about Controversial Young Adult Literature” by Grace Enriquez. Unlike most of the experiments I conduct, the one examined in this article took place in the classroom setting instead of a laboratory.

Experimental design is crucial

In order to have a successful experiment, one must have a clearly defined path before they begin collecting data. The basic methodology of this experiment was to ask four simple questions to middle school students:

  1. “What makes a book controversial?”
  2. “Why are books censored?”
  3. “How do adolescents perceive inappropriate topics?”
  4. “What makes a book worth reading?”

These central themes were addressed in journal entries and homework assignments, as well as class discussions. Students identified drug use, profanity, racism, violence, religion, and sexual content as the primary sources of contentsion in literature.

Who’s the gatekeeper?

In their responses, students often said they were not allowed to read about certain topics because they are not allowed to do certain activities. Students associated reading about subjects like drug use, suicide, and war with actually engaging in them. Likewise, profanity is also discouraged by parents and educators, so it is sensical to the students in this study that it should be prohibited in books too. Responses often alluded to authority figures, which did not approve of the contents of a book, rather than the students voicing their own opinions.

Oh no, there’s bias!

Although well executed, this experiment contains undeniable bias. First, students are inclined to put the answer they believe will please the audience. People have an intrinsic sense of what is right and wrong, and a desire to please others. This means that while a reader could be indifferent towards curses or another taboo topic, they might be inclined to say they will not read a book that contains it. Outside influences, including parents, could have conditioned the student to reply a certain way, unknowingly or knowingly.

This experiment was also limited by its small sample size. Only four different middle school english classes were surveyed, all of which were located in affluent suburban areas. The article also mentions that parents were involved and educated. This likely effected the results of the study, especially if parents helped or reviewed their child’s assignments. It would be interesting to conduct this experiment in a less wealthy area, or a region where parents are not home as often.

Nevertheless, bias like this is often unavoidable, and the results should not be considered tainted. Rather, they should be looked at with a critical lens, and compared to future studies with varying characteristics.

A good plot: priceless


When push comes to shove, a good plot is the biggest factor whether or not to read a book. Students were often willing to ignore the preferences of the gatekeepers if they were entertained by a story. Children are often encouraged to respect their elders authority, but young people should be free to be their own gatekeepers when reading. This allows each individual to decided what they are comfortable with, and set their own boundaries.

Source Cited

Enriquez, Grace. “The reader speaks out: Adolescent reflections about controversial young adult literature.” ALAN Review, 2006. pp. 16-23.

Hunting for Primary Sources

On Monday, January 28th, Jacob and I met with the research librarian at SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library, Sue Ann Brainard. I was anticipating the appointment, eager to hear her thoughts on how to find the most primary sources. I was also looking forward to hearing her tips on how to conduct archival research, especially as a newbie in this field of study. After some brief introductions, all three of us started hunting for primary sources.

Fall 2017 Milne Library Exterior
Photo by Keith Walters accessed on ala.org

Ms. Brainard knew exactly where to go. We found five good articles on the database ProQuest, and another on the website Canada Broadcasting Corporation. She also pointed us to Nexis Uni, which had almost one hundred articles available for the search words “The Golden Compass” and “Halton.” Now we have all these new texts in addition to the articles Jacob and I had acquired through our simple google searches. I have begun the process of sorting through the plentiful amount of primary sources.

Finding buried treasure


On ProQuest, I found a series of three articles that will prove very helpful for showing the ripple effect of censorship. The first article titled “Censorship Dateline: Libraries” was published in January 2008, and discusses the restriction of The Golden Compass in Halton, Ontario. The book is only available upon request.

The second article was published in March 2008, and the third in May 2008. Both are titled “Success Stories: Libraries.” They discuss subsequent complaints of Pullman’s text in Calgary, Alberta and Mississauga, Ontario. Unlike, the case at Halton Catholic School District, the other places decided to keep the book on the shelves. It seems like a single complaint in Halton sparked a bunch of copy cats to jump on the bandwagon.

And the story continues


Recently, Pullman’s texts have reappeared in the limelight, but this time for good reasons. An article on Inside Halton, recommended Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling in December 2018. It is somewhat shocking that after such negative press about his books, a local author would recommend it in the same place where The Golden Compass caused such a stir. Perhaps the buzz has quieted over the years, and locals are not aware of the censorship.

Evidently, the case of censorship Jacob and I are studying in Halton Catholic School District is quite complex. Although we have lots of primary sources, there is still more information to be found. Meeting with our research librarian increased my knowledge about the quantity of information I have access to. Additionally, she helped narrow our search by guiding us to the databases that would contain the most relevant information. Now, I have a ton of reading to do. In fact, I am going to read another article right now!

Works Cited

Baker, Deidre. “Must-reads for kids: from illustrations to poetry to opinions.” Inside Halton. Toronto Star, Dec. 15 2018. Web. 10 Feb. 2019.

“Censorship Dateline: Libraries.” 57 Vol. Chicago: American Library Association, January 2008. pp. 7-14, 35-36. ProQuest. Web. 10 Feb. 2019.

“Success Stories: Libraries.” 57 Vol. Chicago: American Library Association, March 2008. pp. 77-80. ProQuest. Web. 10 Feb. 2019.

“Success Stories: Libraries.” 57 Vol. Chicago: American Library Association, May 2008. pp. 115-117. ProQuest. Web. 10 Feb. 2019.

My Metamorphosing Definition of Censorship

Prior to this class, I had a very mundane definition of censorship: when authorities restrict access to a text. While it is not technically incorrect, it is far too simple. Censorship occurs at various levels in schools and in life without most people even realizing it. First, I would like to consider who is behind censorship.


In Belinda Louie’s article titled “Politics in Children’s Literature: Colliding Forces to Shape Young Minds,” she identifies the stakeholders of censorship, or the people who play the biggest role in determining what children read. Even before this class, I could predict that authors and district administrators were on the list; however, I was surprised that teachers were also considered censors. If anything, I thought my teachers exposed me to more books rather than limited my intake. When a teacher selects a book, they are saying that the required text is more important than a different book. Often, teachers present text that are in accordance with their own views or what will teach students to read critically. I never thought of this when my teacher selected The Catcher in the Rye, as opposed to a different story. Now, I realize just how relatable Holden Caulfield is compared to characters from other cultures. While most people tend to cling to what is comfortable, I think we should also read things that make us uncomfortable. This will make students well rounded, empathetic, and better equipped to face a world growing in diversity.

Wait, it’s not bad after all? 

If you asked me if censorship was good or bad a month ago, I would have replied “bad” very confidently. Now, I realize it is much more complex. Louie also lists parents as stakeholders, saying that they promote books that coincide with their views. A parent’s objective is usually to keep their child safe and happy. But sometimes a parent’s definition of safe contradicts with the themes in a book. For example, the restriction of The Golden Compass by Halton Catholic School District was on the basis that the book is anti-church. Parent’s do not want their children to be exposed to something that would make them question their religious beliefs. For some people, this situation is about parents protecting something their family holds dear. For others, it is hiding the real world from children, an entire school of them. While the consequences of censorship are mostly negative, it can stem from a good place. Clearly, the argument is not one sided.

Please, make it stop

When someone is diagnosed with a disease, it is common to go through a period of denial. They can only be helped once they have accepted the reality of their condition. Similarly, the first step to curing censorship is acknowledging that you have been plagued by it. There are numerous treatment options, but there is no known cure. For starters, read a book! Especially, if it is one that has been challenged before. Tell your friends and family to read it too. By spreading the word about books that have been challenged, one can theoretically prevent them from being pulled off the shelves again. Perhaps you can encourage schools to bring a text back by popular demand. Awareness is the best weapon against censorship (an area I was lacking in prior to this course). Unfortunately, censorship will always be a part of life, especially due to the hierarchy of school systems and society. In the words of Nicole Moore, convener of the English Program at UNSW Canberra, “To be for or against censorship as such is to assume a freedom no-one has. Censorship is.”

Finished! … or not

Originally, I planned on ending this post with a new, concise definition of censorship. To be frank, I do not feel comfortable doing this anymore. I have decided to wait until we have progressed further into the course to see if my thoughts change. I guess you will have to wait a little longer for my official definition.

Works Cited

Louie, Belinda. “Politics in Children’s Literature: Colliding Forces to Shape Young Minds.” Shattering the Looking Glass: Challenge, Risk, and Controversy in Children’s Literature. Edited by Susan S. Lehr. Christopher-Gordon Publishers, 2008. pp. 3-13.

Moore, Nicole. “Censorship Is.” Australian Humanities Review 54, 2013. pp. 45-65.

Getting Started

Hello WordPress! This is my first time writing a blog, so I am excited to get started and share my progress in the COPLAC course, A Burning Idea. In my junior year, I found myself hungry for a new type of learning. The majority of my college career to date has been spent in crowded lecture halls memorizing amino acids and late nights pipetting cancer curing drugs into flasks. This time though, I am excited to get out of the lab and into the library.

Archival research is uncharted terrain for me, so I wanted to be proactive. During winter break I found myself sitting by my fireplace, with a cup of hot chocolate in hand of course, casually browsing the web for an instance where a book was challenged. I came across some titles I knew, and many that I had never heard of. But the biggest problem was that very few texts were protested in New York.

When spring semester began, my partner, Jacob, and I did some individual hunting for an interesting case. We both came to the table with some good ideas. Jacob proposed a situation in Lackawanna, New York where six books were removed from the middle school library recommended list in 2008. This incidence of censorship met some important criteria, namely that it was close and current. I researched two books banned in Johnson City, New York titled Nasreen’s Secret School and The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter. Like the other case, these was also challenged suggested readings. These were particularly appealing to me since I have been studying Arabic for three semesters. My professor has told my class about his life in Iraq, which is the setting of one book. 

Jacob and I had adequate options, but we really wanted a case deep enough that we could dive in head first. Just when we were about to end our search, we came across an article that reported a banning of The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman in Halton Catholic School District in 2007. Since Geneseo is a reasonable distance from Canada, we figured it would be worth entertaining this text as a project option. One google search later and … tons of articles. It was like hitting the information jackpot! We did some perusing to see what all the hype was about. As with many other challenged texts, the source of the dispute was religion. This text was reported due to concerns that it promotes atheism. Interestingly enough, the school that condoned the censorship is both catholic and public. 

Now this was an fascinating case! I got sucked into reading one article and then another. One potential problem, is that Halton is two and a half hours away from Geneseo. This is pretty far, but we are both willing to make the trip if given the go ahead. In the event this does not work out, the Lackawanna case is a good backup. Looks like a trip to Canada may be in store! 

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