British Authors Boycott School Readings

     Should authors and illustrators who come into contact with children at schools be required to undergo a background check? Before you answer, picture a school reading — either at the individual class level where there might be 15 children seated around an author, or at the assembly level where a hundred children or more are seated in an auditorium listening to an illustrator who requires a microphone to be heard. These events are not one-on-one readings with a single child left unattended by teachers.

     So I ask, do visiting authors and illustrators need to be proven innocent before being allowed to speak to a crowd? What if they’ve been reading to kids for years? Does that matter? Is their having to pay more than $100 for a government clearance acceptable?

     Some of Britain’s leading authors say no, it’s no okay. They’re refusing to do readings in schools because of a new requirement that they be registered in a national database proving they’re not sex offenders. We’re talking authors like Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) and Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy) among others fighting this policy.

     You can hear what some of those creators have to say in this fascinating Philadelphia Inquirer article.

     These creators can take a stand that perhaps newer authors can’t. For many new authors, a school reading is a chance to reach an audience they might never otherwise. It can launch a career.

     The intellectually curious person must ask how far this policy would reach and possible unintended consequences. Sane, loving people all want to protect children, of course. Of course. But let’s advance this thinking for the sake of intellectual exercise. The policy would be eventually extended to apply to all parents who act as teachers’ aides and to the delivery driver and construction worker and any other adult who wants to step foot onto school grounds. What of those parents who can’t pay such a fee or don’t want to on principal? You can imagine some parents might take offense to being told to pay $100 to visit their own children’s school. And are children only to come into contact with those people who are well-off enough to afford this or who fall in line with government thinking? Even if they’re never alone with them? Is that okay? Or not? Would the requirement spread to other institutions, such as government-run libraries, where many such readings take place? Should it? Shouldn’t it?

     Interesting ideas to mull over here. And we should — because often what one government can do, another will consider. For bad or good. It’s a UK thing now, but, in the future, who can say?

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