Here’s another open question for educators of any sort, but especially those who specialize in English language arts and/or library science, as well as administrators (if I have any readers who are admins):

I set up my classroom library a few weeks ago – which, unfortunately, looks so meager compared to the shelf I have for books – with a number of my own personal books (and a few that were left in the classroom from previous teachers), except for one book of mine: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. When I got this book used from the university bookstore for a class I took on adolescent lit, it already had a section of about 30 pages – and the first 30 pages or so, to boot – that had come unglued from the binding and fell out. I still have the section with the rest of the bound book, but it obviously needs repair. (Fortunately, I have an old friend who just got her masters in library science, and I know that she can help with rebinding.)

I was also talking with my wife about the possibility of having my seniors read a novel, except that I don’t have any class sets of a “world lit” book (other than a couple of canonical British novels, but I would like a little more diversity than that). I mentioned that I’ve heard great things about Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (as well as A Thousand Splendid Suns) but that there was some controversy about the fact that it depicts a boy being raped. A discussion then ensued about being careful about content, and I remarked that Perks has a rape scene in it as well and covers some mature topics.

So the question I’m asking is this: How far should a teacher, especially a new teacher without tenure, go to limit the availability of books in their own classroom library? (I’m not even raising the question of required material at this point, just what students could have access to in the classroom either for personal reading or for reading assignments where students can choose what they read.) I’m of the mind that all material should be age-appropriate – and for that reason, I decided to leave David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day and Chuck Palahnuik’s Stranger Than Fiction at home for material that is too mature for high schoolers – but I think that students should have some freedom to read about things they’re interested in. I even think that parents should probably have the right to limit their children’s access to certain things if they have some sort of moral/religious conviction against it. (Note that I don’t find that prohibiting students from doing something, especially reading some certain type of literature, is productive at all – in fact, it will probably just make them want to read it more.)

I know of at least a handful of books in my classroom library that would fit this: Perks, John Green’s Looking for Alaska and possibly even his An Abundance of Katherines (there is a very small amount of sexual conduct involved, although it’s never graphic), and Aidan Chambers’ Postcards from No Man’s Land (which has several gay characters and a moment of confused transgenderism). The thing is, though, that I don’t want to get rid of any of these books – none of them are inappropriate for high school students (and in fact, all are intended for high school students and feature high school age characters). They are all great books (although I confess I’m not a huge fan of Perks – I find it tedious at points) that I think students would enjoy and be interested by. And even some of the classics like The Catcher in the Rye end up being challenged – where do you draw the line? Sexual references? (As if high schoolers don’t get that.) Drugs? Alcohol? (Yeah, high schoolers never know anyone who does drugs or abuses alcohol.) GLBT issues? (Or do we want to emulate Iran and simply not acknowledge our GLBT students’ existence?)

I’m pretty conflicted. Please, my faithful readers, leave me comments and let me know your thoughts.

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