Revisiting my definition of censorship with the help of Bobbi Swiderek

In the article titled “Censorship,” teacher and author Bobbi Swiderek is very upfront about her opinion of censorship in school: it is B-A-D, bad! The article is centered around the premise that parents do have rights regarding what their children should learn, but a major problem ensues when parents try to control the education of other people’s children. This concept has been addressed throughout the course time and time again. Jacob and I even incorporated this topic into our interview questions. It will be very interesting to see what educators think of parental input in the classroom.

Swiderek states that at her school, they appease parents by offering alternative books or providing permission slips. This is an interesting approach, but I wonder how effective it is. The case of censorship of The Golden Compass at Halton Catholic School District would not be remedied so easily. Once there was one complainant, it seems like many school board members themselves also felt uncomfortable with the anti-Catholic text. So many people were involved in the situation that the hype surrounding it grew to attract media attention. As it was, the book was not even a part of the curriculum, but just in the school library and on a recommended reading list. Additionally, the district governs a large number of different schools, so there were more opinionated parents. On the flip side, however, restricting access to the book impacted a huge number of students too. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and there were a lot of very noisy ones at Halton.

Children’s author Judy Blume said “censorship grows out of fear.” Evidently, some of the administrators at Halton Catholic School District were very concerned that The Golden Compass would make young students question their faith. In my opinion, the stories in books do not test a person’s faith nearly as much as the real world does. Just because someone reads books containing violence, drugs, or promiscuity, does not mean they do these things. While I do believe reading is a powerful force that can change people, I do not think it should be taken so literally. Fear tends to cloud censors, who should keep this in mind.

Swiderek discusses censorship by omission, in which certain topics are simply left out of the classroom. The reason for this, like all forms of censorship, is because it makes some people uncomfortable. Halton is censoring their students by failing to give them a complete education. Students are probably not educated about the wrongdoings of the Catholic church, or about other religious teachings that may contradict their own. This can be problematic for children; It is of equivalent importance to have your own faith and understand other people’s beliefs.

Swiderek expresses her concern about letting the censors win. Censorship at one school might lead to a ripple effect. Perhaps Swiderek is a fortune teller, because this is exactly what happened after the restriction of The Golden Compass at Halton. However, subsequent challenges were not successful.

Last time I blogged about my definition of censorship, I took a more neutral approach due to sympathizing with parents wanting to protect their small children. Now, I would side against these censors due to the effect banning books has on all the students. Swiderek brings up an incidence where she removed a book from her curriculum because she felt the class was not mature enough to handle the subject matter. While my position has definitely shifted, this makes things even more complicated. I would say censorship in this context might be a positive thing, since the content of the book would cause a distraction to students learning. It is strange to see a person so passionate about preventing censorship, censor herself. All in all, I side with the situations that provide students with the best space to learn and grow, which in some rare cases might involve censorship. It will be interesting to see if my view shifts again throughout this course.

Work cited

Swiderek, Bobbi. “Censorship.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 39 no. 7, April 1996, pp. 592-594.


Progress Report #3

When this course first began, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the idea of creating a website. So many questions buzzed around my head: How would I acquire the content for my site? What kind of software do I need to download? How would I be able to finish it in just one semester? To my surprise, this process has been rather smooth sailing. Within the past few weeks, significant progress has been made on the SUNY Geneseo project website. I am excited to share my work with you!

Although incomplete, the website homepage has a fun interactive music clip from The Golden Compass movie soundtrack. After some trial and error in last weeks class, it is finally working. Additionally, the website navigation has been updated. I have designed it around the five W words: who, what, when, where, and why. Underneath these headings, there are dropdown menus with smaller subcategories. I felt this was a good way to keep things organized.

Website Homepage

I have dedicated most of my time recently to finishing up the pages about Halton Catholic School Board. I created three additional pages, one for each important document I received: (1) the selection of materials form, (2) the committee report, and (3) the school board minutes. Each page contains a short summary of the document, as well as a PDF file embedded into the page. For the majority of viewers, I anticipate the summary will be sufficient, but perhaps some would like to read the primary sources themselves. By providing both, the audience will get to choose their own learning experience.

Webpage about Halton Catholic School Board

My biggest accomplishment this week is that I have completed one interview, and secured two more. Dr. Patricia Ard sent me answers to all my questions via email. I will be analyzing her responses and posting some to my website this week. I also reached out to Dr. David Levy, chair of the philosophy department at Geneseo, to see if he knew anyone who would be of assistance. He recommended I contact Dr. Aaron Herold and Dr. Carlo Filice. Both professors responded promptly to my email, saying that they are willing to help, but unfamiliar with the details of the case. Nevertheless, this is fine considering I will be asking general questions related to censorship. Dr. Herold teaches a class titled “Constitutional Rights and Liberties,” which will likely come into play when discussing censorship. Dr. Filice teaches a class titled “World Religions and Contemporary Issues,” so perhaps he can provide insight on the religious component of censorship. I am currently working on drafting interview questions targeted at their fields of study.

Another focus of mine has been completing the timeline component of our website. Although it just needs the finishing touches, I wish I had more dates specifically related to the case. I have included some dates of important publications in order to paint the full picture of the publicity The Golden Compass received around the time it was censored in Halton. I am looking forward to hearing some feedback on my work in class.

I cannot believe that this course is more than half way over! As they say, time flies by when you’re having fun, or in this case trying to design a detailed website around a censored text. Aren’t they the same thing? Well, at least for me they are!


Interview Preparation

Interviews have been the most difficult aspect of our research on the censorship of The Golden Compass thus far. Although I have been able to find specific names for many of the people involved in the case, it has been incredibly difficult to find their contact information.

After hours of searching, I found emails for two people directly involved with the case: Scott Millard, the Halton Catholic School Board’s Manager of Library Services, and Father David Wilhelm, a member of the Halton Catholic School Board. Father Wilhelm seconded the motion to approve the committee’s recommendation, which was defeated. Unfortunately, neither have responded to my emails yet.

Thanks to Dr. Hajo, I have been in contact with Dr. Patricia Ard. She is an expert in young adult literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and has done pervious research on censorship. Since she does not specifically study the censorship of religious texts, we tried to keep the questions general. We are looking forward to hearing her responses!

Jacob and I have developed the following interview questions for Dr. Ard:

  1. Please tell us a little about your academic background and your specific topics of interest as they pertain to young adult literature.  
  2. In your opinion, what is the primary reason why young adult literature is challenged?
  3. What are some of the common themes across censored texts that you have explored?
  4. Under what circumstances do you think censorship is a positive thing for children/young adults?
  5. Under what circumstances do you think censorship is a negative thing for children/young adults?
  6. How do values regarding censorship tend to be different between different groups, i.e. children/young adults, parents, teachers, and administrators? Is it important, unimportant, or somewhere in the middle?
  7. Do you think censorship benefits or hinders the education of young students?
  8. Are moral/religious values taught in schools? If so, how? Should moral/religious values be taught in schools, in your opinion?
  9. Do school teachers have a right or a duty to teach students things that their parents do not want them to know?
  10. What is your personal viewpoint regarding the censorship of The Golden Compass? Why?
  11. Do you have any additional comments on the censorship of the The Golden Compass, or censorship in general?

Jacob and I are still looking to secure another interviewee for our project. Jacob has taken a class with a Joshua Reichardt, a political science professor who specializes in Canadian politics. We are hoping he will give us some insight to the Canadian public school system, particularly with regard to Catholic public schools. This week, I will be stoping into the philosophy department office to see if there is anyone there who would be qualified to discuss the religious component of the case. Since Geneseo does not have a religious studies department, I figured this would be the next best thing.

While our first choice interviewees do not seem to be panning out, we do have some very good alternatives. I am just thankful that professors are willing to give up their time to help with this research. Any expert perspective will be a valuable addition to our project.


Survey of Technology

Speaking of technology, my laptop comes everywhere with me.

In preparation for my survey of technology blog post, I began with a simple search of SUNY Geneseo’s website. Unlike some larger schools, Geneseo does not have a computer science or technology department, so I was expecting the website to be lacking in this area; however, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of useful tools on the CIT web page.

Old friends

When I was browsing the CIT staff page, I came across a familiar face. Last summer, I took an online computer programming course with a technology expert, Dr. Kirk Anne. Dr. Anne’s official title is the Assistant Director and Manager for Systems and Networking: Research Technologist, which is quite a mouthful. He would probably be willing to answer my questions, or refer me to someone who can. It would be great to work with this professor again!

Tools @ Geneseo

While Geneseo does not have a digital humanities lab, there are a couple of computer labs, as well as supplemental devices that can be acquired through CIT. These will be useful when it comes time to record and edit interviews. Right now, Jacob and I are unsure of the format of our interviews since we are waiting on replies.

There are a lot of links on the CIT website, but only a couple apply to this project. I had heard of before, but was unsure of its function. With one search for “WordPress” it provided me with numerous tutorials. Thanks Geneseo for giving students this resource!

Tools, tools, and more tools

In our project contract draft, Jacob and I have a list of the digital tools we are panning on using for both the actual website and for organizing data. By no means is this list comprehensive; if one of us stumbles upon a neat addition to the project we will definitely utilize it. I recently had the idea to have music on the opening page. I am going to start looking for a plugin that can do this.

Google drive is the primary location where we are storing our preliminary research. We have various documents shared with each other: a list of contacts, links to articles, planning pages, etc. Additionally, we are using Coggle to create flow charts. If the need arises, I will take a deeper look at some of the additional digital tools on the COPLAC website.

Jacob and I will be prepared to work with which ever technological medium our interviewees prefer. Jacob is experienced with Audacity, while I have worked with iMovie before. I am confident we will have good, clean interviews to publish on our website.

Two big components of the website are the timeline and the map. I am planning on using TimelineJS to show how the case unfolded. While both StorymapJS and Google Maps are appropriate choices, I am leaning towards Google Maps for formatting reasons. StorymapJS requires a block of text with every point. Additionally, I prefer the 3D visual Google Maps provides. These elements are necessary to provide content and allow viewers to interact with the website.

WordPress is up and running

The SUNY Geneseo project website is officially operational. While there is minimal content, I have selected a theme, imported a cover photo, and divided the website into pages. Since I am inexperienced with WordPress, this took a bit longer than I thought, but I am pleased with the result.