Now, during the winter holidays and in the lead up to the New Year, is a great time to make a resolution to find out about your school or district’s policies for selecting and using texts. Often we don’t think about these policies until we find ourselves facing a book challenge, and, as you might imagine, that’s not exactly ideal. But knowing these policies and where to find them in advance can help you follow them when selecting texts and understand when others are not following them during a challenge.
You’ll find these and other school policies on the school/district website under school board/school board policies/curriculum and/or instruction. Look for policies for curriculum selection or development, selection of texts, teaching controversial material, and procedures for when someone complains about a text.
Two years ago, 3,000 NCTE members and friends reported on text policies in their schools/districts in a survey conducted by NCTE and NCAC (National Coalition Against Censorship). Twenty-nine percent of respondents reported having a written, formally adopted policy, forty-one percent reported using a set of commonly accepted practices for selecting materials, and nineteen percent reported having no policy. You’ll want to make sure that your school/district is among the twenty-nine percent and has a formally adopted policy.
In addition, if you take a look at the policies now and see that some might benefit from a review and revision, consult with your colleagues and work with the administration to get started on that process. Three NCTE policies can help guide you with this: Students’ Right to Read, Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs, and Statement on Classroom Libraries. Also, the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center is available to consult with you on this project.
Knowing and following these school policies, and making sure others follow them, too, is like knowing the location of the nearest fire exit. You may not ever need to use the exit, but if there’s a fire and you don’t know the exit location, you may find yourself in danger.