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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Susan writes about Balancing her Collection

Susan writes today about her collection. We joke at school that she runs the branch school library.

What is a balanced collection? Obviously, a librarian or teacher wants to have materials for a variety of students. But, the truth is that our schools are no longer balanced. Public schools in urban areas are re-segregating. I want my classroom library to appeal to my students. Yes, I look at the demographics. My students are predominantly African American and Hispanic. White students, those of European descent, are in the minority. My classroom is a microcosm of what Diane deals with. She has to consider the whole school – I only have to consider my students.

Who are my students and what issues do they face?  Let me tell you. In this school year alone, my students in 7th and 8th grade have told me that they:

  • Have a parent, or close relative, in prison
  • Have witnessed violence
  • Have relatives (including parents) who abuse illegal drugs
  • Have parents who “disappear” for periods of time
  • Have a parent that they have never met, or not seen in a long time
  • Have parents who are high school drop-outs
  • Have anger management issues
  • Are currently having sexual relations
  • Worry about having an STD
  • Worry about pregnancy

I could go one. The question is: What books do I buy for them?

Clearly, they want books that address their lives and their issues. My kids want increasingly edgy books, and I am afraid to get them. Until this year, Go Ask Alice used to be edgy. It is no longer. What do I do, without incurring the wrath of administrators?

There is no easy answer. I feel like I am always in danger of censorship; yet, I want to provide informative, thought-provoking material for my kids. It is a risky business—I don’t want to lose my job. I have already been challenged once this year and suffered the repercussions.

My kids want “real” books. These books contain profanity, drug use, sex, and other real issues with which my kids deal. Kids quickly determine what is “real’ and what is “fake.” (Thank you, Holden Caulfield). Here is some of what’s “real”:

  • Yummy (I’d look up the author, but it’s MIA)
  • Scars
  • My Life in Prison—Stanley “Tookie” Williams
  • Anything by Ellen Hopkins

I am nervous about having some of these books in my room, because I fear censorship from administrators. Nonetheless, my concern for my students is what drives me. I am willing to take a stand, knowing that I risk censure.

I end with my favorite quote from the epitaph of Jonathan Swift: I have gone where savage indignation will lacerate my heart no more.