Censorship for Preschoolers?

I got a letter last week from an organization opposed to censorship. They were concerned about some language in one part of our “Early Achievers” rating system for childcare quality that has led some providers to believe that we will deduct points from their score if they have the “wrong” books on their shelves. The standard in question says “books that glorify violence in any way or show frightening images are not considered to be appropriate.” The letter raised concerns that “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak would be one of the “wrong” books.

This standard is part of a national set of standards called the “Environmental Rating Scale” that is one of the two big parts of “Early Achievers,” Washington’s award-winning quality rating and improvement system. I’m not sure what the people at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (the authors of ERS) are thinking that language means, but it most certainly does not mean that any of Maurice Sendak’s books are broadly inappropriate for children. As with all literature, teachers should make sure that kids are ready for what they’re reading, but DEL is not in the business of censorship today, nor will it be in that business tomorrow. We can’t change the text in the ERS, but we are certainly not enforcing anything like this.

“Where the Wild Things Are” was my absolute favorite book as a child. My mother tells me that she thinks it was because I was something of wild thing myself, but that was a long time ago. I’ve included a link to the book at the King County Library so providers can check out a copy and read it to their kids. They have 132 copies, so it seems like it’s somewhat popular. 🙂

There may be confusion in the field about how to interpret the standard and the Department will make significant efforts to ensure that providers and teachers know that having only insipid books is mind-numbing for both children and adults. We’re thinking about a regular newsletter for providers with DEL staff favorite book picks. When I asked the Early Achievers staff about this they listed off their favorites, and there were certainly frightening images in most of them.

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