What is the First Amendment? What is freedom of speech? What is intellectual freedom? What place do they have in YOUR core value system????
I am a children’s librarian. I worked for more than 30 years in the youth services department of my local public library and now I work in a private school in my hometown, serving children preschool through grade 8. My mother was a librarian, too. I grew up believing in the power of intellectual freedom, the First Amendment and the responsibility of free speech. This is what I try to communicate to children.
As a library professional, I see it as my job to ensure that diverse thoughts and values are acknowledged and respected as we build an environment of inclusion in our communities and schools based on a belief in intellectual freedom. How do you view it?
To give you more food for thought, I would like to provide some definitions:
The First Amendment states:
‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
Freedom of speech is explained as the right to speak without censorship or restraint by the government.
As stated on the ALSC website, intellectual freedom is the right of all individuals to read, view, or listen to whatever materials they choose and to speak and write the beliefs and opinions they hold. Intellectual freedom is the basis of democracy and is the core concept upon which libraries are built. http://www.ala.org/alsc/publications-resources/professional-tools
Very recently, in November 2017, the American Association of School Librarians, AASL, released the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians and School Libraries. It states unequivocally:
“Intellectual freedom is every learner’s right. Learners have the freedom to speak and hear what others have to say, rather than allowing others to control their access to ideas and information; the school librarian’s responsibility is to develop these dispositions in learners, educators, and all other members of the learning community.” http://standards.aasl.org/beliefs/.
Bravo for this strong stand!
And yet, we continue to see infringement of intellectual freedom all around. Guest speakers at universities have been denied access to their venues and so could not speak. A moderator for a New Jersey high school yearbook intentionally changed the yearbook picture of a student to be more to her liking. On the book front, content-based censorship continues. Children’s (and adult) titles have been pulled from publication, had publications cancelled, and some were threatened with lawsuits. One young adult novel created internet fury (so much so that there was a question if it would actually be published) but admittedly was not read by the majority of its detractors.
How can we explain these events to the children with whom we work if we want them to believe in intellectual freedom?
We need to think about these issues during these turbulent times in our society. More questions: What are our teaching goals? What teaching methods are most effective with regard to First Amendment and Intellectual Freedom issues? How do we blend values of diversity and inclusion with intellectual freedom and freedom of speech? Whose speech will be free?
“Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.” — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo in Palko v. Connecticut
Carol Phillips is the librarian at St. Bartholomew School in East Brunswick, New Jersey, and a member of the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee.