A Tennessee grade school teacher’s TikTok video about the byzantine process of screening classroom books for “age appropriateness” has gone viral.
In the clip, the teacher describes having to spend a Saturday in her classroom cataloguing each and every book for approval. The process involves listing what could be hundreds, or even thousands, of books by title and author, then submitting the list to the school librarian to check against lists of approved and unapproved books.
Books that are not on the school library’s approved list must then be reviewed by another administrator. Teachers must then post a list of all approved books in their classrooms for parents to review and potentially challenge.
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The teacher, who posts under the handle @sydneyrawls, says that her school does not require teachers to put in the extra time to catalogue all their books. But, she notes, students are not allowed to read any classroom books until they’ve been approved.
“The kids in here are asking me, ‘Can I go get a book and read?’ and I have to say, ‘No you can’t,’” she says in the video which has received 1.5 million views. “Because I haven’t had a chance to go through all of them to catalog them and write them all down to send off to somebody that is going to tell them that they can or cannot read the books in my classroom library.”
The result is a lot of extra, unpaid work for teachers in order for their students to be able to simply read books.
“This process is really unnecessary,” Tanya Coats, president of the Tennessee Education Association, told WKRN News 2. “We are professionals in our classrooms and we know what is best for our students. We wouldn’t put anything in front of them that would be inappropriate or knowing that it would be harmful to students.”
The process stems from a law signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) in March, which requires school libraries to screen materials for “age appropriateness.” Under the law, it is up to each school district to define what is age-appropriate in their community, according to Chalkbeat Tennessee.
One Tennessee Democrat, state Rep. John Ray Clemmons, said the law could create uneven access to materials across school districts.
“I’m truly concerned about limiting the information and access to knowledge and resources for our children to get a full and appropriate education in our schools. This seems overly vague.”