Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ending the week

The October edition of American Libraries (unfortunately the online link's recent issue is September) was in my mailbox early this week. After browsing through it, I will go back and read things of interest later, I was intrigued by Will Manley's column, Speaking of Dissent. This year, American Libraries is celebrating it's 100th anniversary. Manley has been revisiting various moments in ALA history and the October 2007 column details what he mentions as possibly the "biggest controversy to hit ALA;" an Office of Intellectual Freedom film titled "The Speaker" that was sponsored by ALA and shown thirty years ago at the ALA Annual meeting in Detroit, 1977 (Manley, AL, 10/07, p. 88).

Unfamiliar with this instance in ALA history, I spent time this evening trying to locate more information; there was very little available. An ERIC document discussion guide abstract (ED151880) provides the full title, "The Speaker: A Film about Freedom," and includes this blurb in their abstract concerning the discussion guide:

"'The Speaker,' a film about the First Amendment concept of freedom of expression, deals with the personal torment that individuals experience in learning tolerance for ideas they fear or reject" (ED151880, 1977).

I also found the ALA archives, housed at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, contains evaluation forms presented to the membership at the June 1977 meeting when the film was shown. However, from Manley's column the plot of this movie:

"centers around an attempt by a high school history teacher to invite controversial speakers to campus to give presentation on volatile issues not taught in the classroom. One of the invitees is a famous scientist notorious for espousing the theory that black people are genetically inferior. After a significant number of parents and students protest this invitation, the school board steps in and prohibits the man from speaking. End of film." (Manley, AL, 10/07, p. 88)

As Banned Books week draws to a close, I find myself very interested in the final paragraph of "Speaking of Dissent."

"Does the advocate of an ugly and discriminatory point of view have the right to be heard by an audience of young and impressionable students?"

There is obviously no simple ansswer; just as there are no easy answers and lack of opinions concerning books and censorship. That is why it's so important to stop each year and bring attention to Banned Books week.

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