On SAGE Insight: “It Was . . . the Word ‘Scrotum’ on the First Page”: Educators’ Perspectives of Controversial Literature

From Journal of Teacher Education

Marking Banned Books Week 2018

In this study, authors explore the perceptions preservice teachers (PSTs) and school librarians have toward using challenged and banned books with K-12 readers. We seek to understand how preservice educators think about what children should read, who decides what children should read, and in particular, how decisions are made about including controversial literature in the classroom. The study examined the following question: What meanings do PSTs and school librarians construct about controversial children’s literature, and what implications do these meanings have for students’ right to read?

To learn what PSTs and school librarians think about what children should read and who should make those decisions, the paper analyzed written discussions that occurred in the context of an online graduate course, Children’s Literature Across the Curriculum (CLATC), taught at a public university in the mid-Atlantic United States.

The findings suggest that many preservice educators would be very uncomfortable with using The Higher Power of Lucky in a public school setting. Presumably, some of these students would exercise preemptive censorship with this book, excluding it from their classroom or library collections because of the controversy that could arise over the word “scrotum”. These findings underscore a need for teacher educators to support PSTs and school librarians in their efforts to understand and enact practices promoting intellectual freedom and students’ right to read. This is especially true in the present, a time when censorship at the highest level of government is receiving attention and critique. For instance, President Trump’s decision to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from speaking to the public and his attacks of media outlets giving him unfavorable coverage.


Preemptive censorship occurs when educators avoid particular books because they dislike the ideas or values the books contain or fear the controversy the books may evoke. Although not as blatant as other forms of censorship, preemptive censorship has the unfortunate consequence of restricting children’s access to ideas and information. Moreover, preemptive censorship violates students’ intellectual freedom and right to read. In this study, we employ critical discourse analysis to examine discussions by preservice teachers and school librarians as they responded to a controversial children’s book. Our analysis of the discussions revealed that many preservice educators maintain a protective view of children, fear the negative reactions of parents, and would choose to engage in preemptive censorship rather than create controversy in their classrooms and schools. We conclude by recommending ways that teacher educators can support preservice teachers and school librarians in their efforts to promote the professional value of intellectual freedom.

Read this article in full here


Article Details
“It Was . . . the Word ‘Scrotum’ on the First Page”: Educators’ Perspectives of Controversial Literature
Sue C. Kimmel, Danielle E. Hartsfield,
First Published January 12, 2018
DOI: 10.1177/0022487117751126
Journal of Teacher Education





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