How can a map of tech-assisted interventions in early literacy be helpful?

Technology tools sit at our kitchen table, ride with us in our car, and take a place on our bedside table. Smartphones, tablets, TVs with video games, and computers are turned on ─and we’re tuned in, adults and children alike.

These developments are not lost on educators. Shayna Cook who studies an array of policy issues concerning birth through third grade for New America’s Early Education Initiative recently noted that: “Many early education programs around the country are beginning to determine how they might harness these [technology] tools to engage with parents, improve home-to-school connections, and otherwise augment efforts to help children develop early language and literacy skills.”[1]

Cook describes an interesting new effort led by New America and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop ─ the launch of an interactive U.S. map of early literacy programs categorized into five buckets:

  1. Professional learning programs
  2. Center and school initiatives
  3. Home visiting and parent engagement programs
  4. Library and museum programs
  5. Public media partnerships.

The just-released “beta” version of the interactive map lets you click on “pin-drops” categorized by these five types of programs. What you get when you click on the map is information about the literacy program; for example, where the program is located, what tech tools are used, and what evidence of impact there is on children’s reading skills through the program’s intervention. Each program provides information within the following 14 categories:

  • Program description
  • Summary
  • Story of program beginning
  • Program goal
  • Technological tool(s)
  • Purpose of technology
  • Technology concerns
  • Biggest challenges
  • Program documentation
  • Evidence of impact
  • Evidence of impact rating
  • Larger initiative
  • List of program partners
  • All locations

For example, when you click on the pin-drop positioned in central Ohio, up comes “Kids Read Now” which targets children ages 6-8 and is categorized as a center/school initiative. The description tells us that this program “seeks to eliminate the summer reading slide[2] by partnering directly with schools to enroll students in grades K-3. Students choose nine books, attend a Family Reading Night event where they receive the first three of those books, and then receive weekly phone calls/text messages/emails throughout the summer to remind them to read their books. These calls, placed using One Call Now technology, allow students to record books they have finished. When a book is reported as finished, the child is sent another book from his/her list through the mail. Children keep all books.”

While this program is available nationally, the statistics seem to come from Ohio and Indiana: “During summer 2014, we enrolled 4,000 students from 22 school buildings in Ohio and Indiana in this program. We estimate our program will serve approximately 5,000 students from 24 buildings during summer 2015. We have hopes of growing to serve a national audience and are limited only by the amount of funding we have in place.”

When you click on the pin-drop in New Mexico, up comes the “Great Reading Adventure” which is in the library/museum category. This is “an online platform to help families engage in the statewide summer reading program and track minutes read over the summer. [The] online platform allows participants to earn badges and complete early literacy activities as they participate in the summer between May and August.” Serving more than 10,000 students, the technology tools the program uses are touchscreen tablets, mobile apps, and computers online. The program is finding “a way to make it easier for families to engage and participate in the summer reading program by using technology to help overcome common issues or challenges such as transportation or lack of access.”

The challenges identified by the 28 programs on the U.S. map are interesting. For example, New Mexico’s program cites the lack of or unreliable internet access, lack of professional development (presumably for librarians and other staff), and concern about using technology with families with young children (see other Z House blogs on research calling for limits on “screen time” for very young children). The Ohio program cites lack of access or transportation as a challenge.

The name of the mapping project is “InTEL: Integrating Technology in Early Literacy.” Early feedback on InTel is promising ─ the map-makers report “positive feedback from state and program leaders who have been testing new approaches and need to be able to see the landscape and find examples with a solid research base.”

This map is really for an “inside baseball” audience ─ state and program leaders and researchers in early child literacy. This is not a map that seems to be designed for parents, teachers, librarians and others on the frontline working with children to improve their reading skills. But the map could in my view morph into a source of useful information for a frontline audience as the map is improved in the coming months and years. It may be useful, for example, to know what programs are operating in your schools, libraries and museums; and what programs are out there in other communities that would be helpful to adopt/adapt for your community to fill gaps in literacy programs for children.

Efforts are underway to improve the map. The current pin-drops were fed by data collected from a national survey conducted in February 2015. The survey has been re-opened to collect more information. So the good news is the InTEL map-makers will continue to update and expand the pin-drop sites. More good news would be expanding the use of the map ─from the “inside baseball” audience to the “frontline” audience who could help call for the adoption and adaptation of well-tested early literacy programs.

Would that the “pin-drops” become so numerous on the U.S. map that the map-makers biggest challenge is how to portray them!

reading map

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[1] “A Map in Progress: Integrating Technology in Early Literacy” (June 15, 2015): http://www.edcentral.org/beta-map-intel/

[2] “Slide” refers to students who lose their reading skills during the summer.

Can your dog or cat help a child learn to read better?

Early this morning ─ really early ─ BJ the cat[1] sprawls across my collarbone peering into my face, “vocalizing.” Her meows grow louder which can only mean one thing: “get up, I’m hungry, can’t you hear me?” BJ is mostly deaf from advancing age. I’m convinced she has no idea how loud she is. As she tunes up the MEOW volume, I shuffle downstairs to get the food bowl ready ─run water in the faucet until it’s hot enough to mix with her canned food to make warm gravy. She watches quietly next to her tan placemat on the kitchen floor. As I put the food bowl on her placemat, she vocalizes soft mewings that I interpret as, “I’m happy to just about be getting my food.” Then there’s quiet while she laps the gravy. Next, a visit to the water bowl followed by stretching. Finally, a trip to the window seat where she waits for the sun to stream in for a morning sunbath.

BJ is 20 years + some months old. In her senior years, she seems to have more to comment on than ever before ─she did not vocalize much when she was younger. She never has been the kind of cat who might sit and listen contentedly, for example, to a child reading out loud. Why you ask would I even expect her to do this?

Well, I learned recently that some cats do –that animal therapy teams throughout the country are joining forces to listen to children read. So I’m looking at BJ through new eyes. Could we be a therapy team – go to schools and libraries and help children learn to read better? Nope, not BJ the cat and me. And truth be told, it’s primarily dogs who participate in these programs. I learned this from looking at the pictures of therapy teams posted on the Internet – from animal assistance reading programs in Georgia, Florida, Connecticut, Delaware, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Puget Sound.

So now I’m wondering how to get my therapy team together ─ join forces with a dog (or mellow cat) to participate in one of these programs because the data shows they are really helping children learn to read better. And children, schools, and animal therapy teams alike are saying it’s fun!

What do these programs look like? In an article for The Bark, [2] Anita Stone explains: “For each session, the dog and the child-tutor settle down onto a blanket-covered pad on the floor in a corner of the school media center or in the library. Either the dog picks out a book or the child selects a picture book, brings it to the dog, holds it flat and begins to read. Though the children believe they are teaching dogs to read, in fact, with the dog as a comfortable, attentive audience (and an occasional gentle assist from the dog’s adult volunteer partner), they are actually teaching themselves. As far as the child is concerned, however, reading is about the dog, not about the child. No pressure. No embarrassment. No humiliation.”

Stone provides some good history about these programs. “Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) was among the first to use “reading dogs” in the classroom. Launched in 1999 by Utah-based Intermountain Therapy Animals, the program was introduced in a Salt Lake City library … and a year later, successfully moved into the school system. READ dogs are trained, registered and certified therapy animals who serve as classroom reading tutors, assisting children with their quiet presence and helping them develop a love of reading.”

Many other programs around the country have followed suit. For example, a psychologist volunteering with Helping Paws International, collaborated with Intermountain to create a therapy assistance program called BARKS (“Bonding, Animals, Reading, Kids and Safety”) in Durham County, North Carolina. By 2002, the program had accepted and trained several breeds of dogs, and the demand from schools waiting to participate has grown significantly. BARKS dogs act as partners in 30-minute weekly reading sessions with elementary school children. “Helping Paws International” has also been successful in working with autistic children in North Carolina, and many teams are now operating in states such as Florida, Ohio, and Texas.

“Sit Stay Read!” was established in the Chicago area more than a decade ago by an owner of a dog training school. The Chicago program worked with teachers, reading specialists and literacy experts to establish a program focusing on reading fluency with second- and third-graders of low-income communities. One volunteer team (human + dog) works with groups of four children. The program started with four schools but quickly found some 40 schools were on the waiting list. The results have been really positive. Fluency test results show reading acceleration to 24 words per minute, versus 9 words per minute for children not involved with the program. And both the attendance of children and their attitude in the classroom have improved.

The Reading With Rover![3] literacy program places volunteers in the schools, bookstores and libraries of the Puget Sound area of Washington State to help with literacy programs. I especially enjoyed the testimonials (“woof” reviews) at their website. Here are a few:

  • It’s always been a struggle to get my child to read each day. I’ve never seemed to be able to find the right topics to draw him in. Reading with Rover has been a HUGE help! My son will read almost any kind of book during Reading with Rover, and he wants to read for the entire hour! This is so different from how he is at home. I highly recommend this program for any child who is not a fan of reading! ─ Jessica
  • My granddaughter is in love with your program! And when I was first introduced to it at Third Place Books last month, I totally understood her delight and enthusiasm. In the 40 years that I’ve been involved with education, I don’t think I’ve experienced a more exciting and rewarding program. I had tears in my eyes as I walked around and watched the various children read to these wonderful dogs! I have told anyone who will listen about it! I applaud all of your special efforts to make this so magical! ─ Jennifer C
  • Wow, was it a hit!!! Nate had a blast. Read to 5 dogs and finished 2 whole books. He was so proud of himself. He talked about the dogs all the way home. He is also trying to figure out how our unruly dog, Norton, could be a Reading with Rover dog. When we explained that Norton didn’t behave well enough to be around all those other dogs, he kept thinking. He’s now convinced we can start our own Reading with Rover at home with the neighborhood kids! I had to laugh. That should be funny. Thank you  ─ Shay H

All of these programs (there are many described on the Internet) report success in helping children learning to read. The biggest problem they seem to share is how to find more animal assistance teams.

So, what does it take for a dog (or cat even) to make a good therapy animal? These programs generally require registered therapy animals that have been trained and tested for health, safety, appropriate skills and temperament. And training for the human that accompanies the dog for the reading sessions is needed as well; for example, what to say to the child when Rover falls asleep while the child is reading to him.

A report on these types of reading assistance programs by ABC news a few years ago[4] highlighted researchers at the University of California, Davis, who confirmed that children who read to a dog really do perform better. They found that young students who read out loud to dogs improved their reading skills by 12 percent over the course of a 10-week program, while children in the same program who didn’t read to dogs showed no improvement. For young kids, one of the big challenges in learning to read is the embarrassment of making mistakes. Reading to dogs provides a simple solution — a non-judgmental, comforting furry friend who “listens” and takes the pressure off a child as he stumbles.

So, with the research suggesting that animals can help children learn to read better, I’m hoping that other lovers of animals will look into these programs to help meet the growing demand for animal therapy teams.

I wish that BJ the cat could listen to children read but she’s doing too much of her own talking to be a good listener these days. My plan, therefore, is to look for a dog with the right temperament to be my partner in one of these programs in the future.

________________________________________

[1] Subject of one of the Z House stories: “How BJ Diana Came to Live at the Z House.”

[2]“Reading” Dogs Help Children Learn By lending an ear at story time: http://thebark.com/content/reading-dogs-help-children-learn

[3] http://www.readingwithrover.org/

[4] Report: Therapy Dogs Provide Comfort to Students. Study: Reading to Dogs Helps Children Learn to Read. http://abcnews.go.com/WN/study-dogs-children-learn-read/story?id=11428770

 

For good storytelling, go to Storyline Online

Library Lion.2015From time to time, I revisit a favorite website – Storyline Online – to check out the latest productions of well-known actors reading children’s stories. The book I picked out for today is Library Lion, written by Michelle Knudsen and read by actress Mindy Sterling. If you and your children like libraries and lions, this is the book for you.

Here’s the plotline: “Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library. And, as it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. He makes a comfy backrest for the children at story hour. And he never roars in the library, at least not anymore. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how.”[1]

First off, Mindy Sterling is a reader who exudes warmth. And she skillfully makes up cool voices to bring the characters to life – librarians, children, and lion alike (the latter through some impressive roaring). I especially enjoyed the sound effects and animated illustrations ─ characters dashing across the page, crashing sounds of the librarian’s fall from a step stool, and lion’s tail dusting off book shelves. If I had to choose to read this story to a child in print form (usually my preference) or go online to listen to/watch the video book, I’d choose the latter. This is an entertaining story truly enhanced by the talented reader, and sound and art effects of the video production.

This is my third blog featuring the resources of Storyline Online (see blogs on October 13, 2012; and February 17, 2014). Storyline Online is a program of The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Foundation. The program is grounded in research that “reading to children has been repeatedly shown to improve their reading, writing and communication skills, logical thinking, concentration and general academic aptitude… as well as inspire a love of reading.” [2] The program records actors reading children’s books accompanied by a graphically dynamic video book. Parents can access the video books any time/anyplace – for free. Many teachers play Storyline Online videos for their students. And, doctors and nurses play these video books for children in hospitals. Since inception of the SAG Foundation’s program, there have been over 50 million views worldwide and millions of views every month.

If you haven’t visited Storyline Online yet, or haven’t been there recently, this is a great website to get your fix of good storytelling, whether you have a child to listen with you or not. My favorites are Elijah Wood reading Me and My Cat, and Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog. And now I’m adding Library Lion to the list. Like the lion who likes to go to the library for storytelling, sit back and enjoy some great stories read to you by some great readers.

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[1] http://www.storylineonline.net/library-lion/

[2] Information from < http://sagfoundation.org/childrens-literacy/storyline-online/> The SAG Foundation’s children’s literacy website, Storyline Online, streams imaginatively produced videos featuring celebrated actors including Rita Moreno, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Elijah Wood, Hector Elizondo, and Betty White reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations, helping to inspire a love of reading in children. Storyline Online receives over 4.3 million views every month in more than 211 countries. Storyline Online is available 24 hours a day for children, parents, and educators worldwide. For each book, supplemental curriculum developed by a literacy specialist is provided, aiming to strengthen comprehension and verbal and written skills for English-language learners worldwide.

 

 

When kids can talk to Elmo & the Cookie Monster about reading

If your 5-year old could talk to Sesame Street’s Elmo or the Cookie Monster like he talks to Grandma on Skype, could he become a better reader? That’s what a new partnership between Sesame Workshop and ToyTalk is betting on.[1] And this partnership could open up new inroads in the use of speech recognition systems to advance literacy for all our children.

Here’s the idea: “conversational technology” could be used to develop literacy, especially at the preschool level. Sesame Workshop[2] and ToyTalk[3] announced plans a few weeks ago to sign a research partnership agreement to explore how to use conversational technology to teach preschool literacy. The result could be, Elmo and the Cookie Monster talking to your child in a two-way conversation like he talks to Grandma on Skype.

How did we get to this possibility and why is the Sesame Workshop/ToyTalk partnership in the literacy news?

The first part of the answer lies in “good news.” Speech recognition systems have truly come of age and could be a valuable, cost-effective tool to advance literacy development.

The second part of the answer lies in “bad news.” Half of our nation’s fourth graders are unable to read at a basic level (National Assessment of Educational Progress report on reading for 2011); and only one in three U.S. students is able to read and understand grade-level material ─ unfortunately across all school grades.

So researchers are continuously on the hunt for ways to advance child literacy. Folks such as Marilyn Jager Adams, visiting professor in the Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Department at Brown University, and longtime participant in NAEP’s committees in reading, believe that speech recognition technology can and should be used to advance early childhood literacy.[4] The approach would include developing speech-recognition-based reading software for our schools. This is not a far-fetched idea.

Automatic speech recognition is more than 20 years old and commonplace in many industry sectors. Medical and law professionals use voice recognition to dictate notes and transcribe information. Newer uses include military applications, navigation systems, automotive speech recognition, ‘smart’ homes designed with voice-command devices, and gamers interacting via voice commands with video games. Automatic speech recognition is used for telephone call-routing and directory assistance, captioning live TV to permit viewing in noisy places, enabling folks to talk to their computers and mobile phones via voice command (to issue commands and ask devices to transcribe voice mail and send written copies to email).

Speech recognition systems are not, however, widely in use in education. And where they are playing a role, the focus seems to be on assisting children with disabilities ─ not all children. The National Center for Technology Innovation, for example, identifies a range of populations that may benefit from speech recognition technologies:1) learning disabilities, including dyslexia and dysgraphia; 2) repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome; 3) poor or limited motor skills; 4) vision impairments; 5) physical disabilities; and 6) limited English Language.[5] No doubt, some of the 50% of the nation’s poor fourth grade readers fall within some of these named populations. Many do not.

The Center identifies numerous benefits for these populations from speech recognition technologies: improved access to the computer, increases in writing production, improvements in writing mechanics, increased independence, decreased anxiety around writing, and improvements in core reading and writing abilities. Specifically for the latter, the Center explains how speech recognition tools assist students with learning disabilities in reading and writing: “In allowing students to see the words on screen as they dictate, students can gain insight into important elements of phonemic awareness, such as sound-symbol correspondence. As students speak and see their words appear on the screen, the speech-to-text tool directly demonstrates the relationship between how a word looks and sounds.” This, the Center notes, can be especially helpful for students with learning disabilities and effective in remediating reading and spelling deficits.

The Center calls out another benefit of speech recognition technologies ─ in the “error correction process.” Because no speech recognition product is completely accurate, “it requires users to check the accuracy of each word uttered as sentences are being dictated. When an error is made, the child must then find the correct word among a list of similar words and choose it. This process necessitates that the user examine the word list closely, compare words that look or sound alike, and make decisions about the best word for the specific situation. This can give kids with learning disabilities a boost in reading and spelling as they learn to discriminate between similar words.”

Adams’ research takes a broader perspective ─ calling for speech recognition technologies to help people learn to read and read to learn. If computers were given “ears,” they could listen to students as they read, offer help or prompt further thought at just the right moments ─ all the while making records of students’ progress and difficulties. This technology could provide tailor-made interactive support and guidance. This is what becoming a good reader depends on.

Adams is not arguing that speech recognition technology approaches would take the place of other literacy approaches. She notes other significant reading efforts. The federal “Reading First” initiative has a focus on making sure all children leave the primary grades having securely learned and understood the basics of the alphabet. And the “Common Core State Standards” initiative focuses on ensuring that students have guidance and practice with increasingly more sophisticated and informative reading texts as they move through the grade levels. Understanding the infrastructure of the alphabet and using reading skills to comprehend texts at an increasingly sophisticated level are both critical components of children’s literacy development throughout their schooling.

The speech recognition “silver bullet,” if it can be called that, points to the challenges Adams sees students facing during the “intermediate reading period.” This is when students are “first gaining the ability to read with fluency and ongoing comprehension. It is with this intermediate challenge that most of our students fall by the wayside.”

During the intermediate reading period, speech recognition technology could be used to help students read and understand texts on their own with the support, instruction, skills and practice to help them through these tasks.

This is the type of research informing the new partnership between Sesame Workshop and ToyTalk, that is in the literacy news. ToyTalk is a company well down the road in exploring children’s speech recognition systems. ToyTalk has developed apps like the Winston Show, where children can talk with animated characters (parents give their permission via email). ToyTalk’s system collects children’s speech patterns to feed into a continually updated database. The more children talk to the animated characters, the better the developers at ToyTalk get at understanding what children are saying (accuracy is important in developing effective speech recognition systems for children).

Sesame Workshop is targeting preschoolers who typically do not speak as clearly and who pause more often when searching for words. Sesame Workshop’s testing has discovered that children who see a two-dimensional Elmo on a screen ( tablet or TV) assume it’s a game with prompts. But when they see a “live-action” character like Elmo, they treat it more like a Skype call with Grandma.

Sesame Workshop has been testing mobile apps that use ToyTalk’s proprietary PullString technology to use a combination of speech recognition meant to understand children’s speech patterns, artificial intelligence and prewritten scripts that respond to what a child has said. The first products from this partnership are expected out next year. Next will come products that would more formally teach children to read. This could include technology that can tell a child whether they’re pronouncing a word correctly, that asks them to come up with a word that rhymes with “dog,” or that asks them to discuss their feelings ─ all through two-way conversations with characters like Elmo and the Cookie Monster.

What would it have been like, to have my son at 5 be able to talk on a regular basis to the Cookie Monster ─ to practice his reading? I think he would have waited eagerly by the phone for the Cookie Monster’s call to the literacy conversation.

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[1] “Sesame Workshop Tackles Literacy With Technology,” Elizabeth Jensen, Oct.19, 2014 (NY Times). http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/business/media/sesame-workshop-to-tackle-preschool-literacy-with-technology.html?_r=0

[2] Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street and other programs (e.g., radio, books, videos, interactive media/technology efforts, collaborations with research/ innovation lab ─ the Joan Ganz Cooney Center). Sesame Workshop’s mission is to use the educational power of media to help children everywhere reach their highest potential. http://www.sesameworkshop.org/about-us/workshop-at-a-glance/

[3] ToyTalk, a children’s speech recognition company, is an award-winning, family entertainment company that creates conversational characters. The Winston Show is an iPad app where kids and characters have real conversations in a new dimension of make-believe. SpeakaZoo is a zoo app where kids talk with the animals. It’s made for the iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone. SpeakaLegend is a talk & touch speech recognition app (e.g., befriend legendary creatures on quest to find the Unicorn, or through SpeakOrTreat visit scariest neighborhood in town to fill up candy bag). https://www.toytalk.com/about/

[4] “Technology for Developing Children’s Language and Literacy: Bringing Speech Recognition to the Classroom” by Marilyn Jager Adams, September 21, 2011. See: http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/publication/technology-for-developing-childrens-language-and-literacy-bringing-speech-recognition-to-the-classroom/

[5]“Speech Recognition for Learning,” National Center for Technology Innovation, at brainline kids: http://www.brainline.org/content/2010/12/speech-recognition-for-learning_pageall.html

 

Banned Books Week ─ Will we need it in 2015?

Last week was Banned Books Week. I enjoyed reading some witty blogs by parents who reacted by planning to read to their children all the banned books they could fit in during the week. Were they taking the “banned” in Banned Books Week seriously, and standing up for our freedom of speech?

I decided to look into this week-long event. Where did it come from? Who’s behind this week? What does it stand for?

Since 1982, Banned Books Week has been held every year during the last full week of September. Is this a real issue? Are there banned books in the U.S.?

Looking closely at the word, banned, is illuminating. The word means to “officially or legally prohibit something.”[1] The synonyms for banned are ominous. In the case of books, if you banned them you would: prohibit, forbid, veto, proscribe, disallow, outlaw, make illegal, embargo, bar, debar, block, stop, and suppress. 

Is this what Banned Books Week was set up to fight when it was founded 32 year ago by one of its key leaders, Judith Krug?  Krug served as the American Library Association’s Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom; and also joined the Freedom to Read Foundation as its Executive Director. As both a librarian and activist she was well positioned to stand up for freedom of speech and fight censorship.

There’s no doubt that concerns around censorship increased over the past few decades with the onset of the Internet ─ with worries about children’s access to age-inappropriate materials (e.g., think pornography) and government concerns about access to information that could be used to threaten our nation’s security (e.g., think Homeland Security).  In 1996, Krug coordinated an effort against the Communications Decency Act of 1996. This was the U.S. Congress’ first attempt to introduce a form of censorship of speech on the Internet. She fought against any moves that libraries would censor materials for patrons; and for libraries protecting the confidentiality of library use records. In the latter case, Krug opposed the U.S. Department of Justice using the authority of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 to conduct searches of confidential library databases.

Is this one of those times when both sides can be right on issues? We don’t want our children to have access to pornographic materials and we don’t want to jeopardize our nation’s security by providing cover to dissidents who might use library information to jeopardize our national security. But we do want to protect our freedom of speech and do want to maintain protections around confidential databases.

When there’s right on both sides, compromises are often in order. And sure enough, this is what happened on the childrens’ issue. In 2003, Krug led a challenge to the constitutionality of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. The result was movement toward middle ground. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “the law was constitutional but that filtering the software on computers in public libraries could be turned off if requested by an adult guardian.”[2] This put the decision about access to age-appropriate materials squarely in the hands of childrens’ guardians. Krug warned that the same filters used to censor Internet pornography from children would “risk blocking educational information about social matters, sexuality, and healthcare.”[3] Still it was an acceptable compromise to many.

Why is this week still being sponsored in 2014 by a long list of leading associations and literacy groups ─ the American Library Association, American Booksellers Association,  American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Society of Journalists and Authors, Association of American Publishers, National Association of College Stores, and endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress?

The answer lies in the original rationale for Banned Books Week.  It “not only encourages readers to examine challenged literary works, but also promotes intellectual freedom in libraries, schools, and bookstores. Its goal is to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.”

But shouldn’t the sponsors be honest about the name? More than a decade ago a columnist from the Boston Globe (Jeff Jacoby) pointed out that most books on the so-called “banned” list are books that were simply challenged, primarily by parents for violence, language, sexuality, or age-appropriateness. They were not actually removed.[4]  And a writer in the Wall Street Journal (Mitchell Muncy) later noted that the censorship being protested does not exist ─ that books are not banned in the U.S. [5]

Librarians responded then and still that Banned Books Week highlights “the hundreds of documented attempts to suppress access to information that take place each year across the U.S.,” and that “when the library is asked to restrict access for others, that does indeed reflect an attempt at censorship.”[6]

The bottom line seems to be: “Most books on the annual American Library Association list of banned and challenged books were “only” challenged, never banned. Even if some were removed from libraries, they are still available for purchase in book stores. Therefore, censorship hasn’t really happened because the government hasn’t banned the books.”[7]

Even if there are no banned books, it doesn’t look as if Banned Books Week is going away any time soon. And it doesn’t look as if the folks supporting Banned Books Week are going to change the name to “Challenged Books Week.”

So next year when the last full week of September rolls around and parents flock to libraries and bookstores to seek out so-called “banned books” to read to their children, that’s a good thing because they’ll be reading. But I’m going to guess that those same parents standing up for no censorship are not going to lift the protection on their Internet software to let their children visit pornographic websites during that week, nor advocate for their public libraries to do so.

If Banned Books Week causes us to think about these important issues, then I say, bring on Banned Books Week 2015.