Banned Books Week: Slaying Censorship | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

I am an avid celebrator of Banned Books Week. It becomes a way to make reading sexy -- the exact opposite of what those who challenge or ban books have intended. Cue evil laughter.

The American Library Association's Banned Books Week is a way to celebrate brave and creative authors -- and the freedom to read, yes. But more importantly, it is a way to celebrate students' ability to think for themselves.

Sure, some books are not appropriate for every kid at every age, but to make that book inaccessible, as dictated by a group believing themselves to be the almighty word in literature, is wrong.

Any kid in your classroom can grow up to write any book they want. Any kid in your classroom can become an author. Any kid in your classroom has the right to find an audience who uses their own critical thinking skills to determine whether they approve or disapprove.

I remember I was in fifth grade when Judy Blume's Forever came out. It took my teacher only one red-faced blow-up and dramatic text tearing for it to spread like wildfire among us girls. And then, of course, the boys picked it up because they want to know what all the fuss is about.

Credit: Heather Wolpert-Gawron

I have an admission to make: I'm not a big Twilight fan. Please, no more death threats. I've had enough from the review of the sequel, Breaking Dawn, on my own website. But the theme of my review of that book was this: Don't censor. Be a part of the conversations by reading what your kids are reading. Be one of the voices in their head when they are making their own decisions.

So, celebrate Banned Books Week. Celebrate dialogue. Celebrate book talks, even about those you might not like, or approve of. Celebrate the Constitution. Celebrate the liberty of literacy.

Here's some of the things I do in my own classroom library:

  • Get "Crime Scene" or "Caution" tape. Our whole school is under construction, so that was no problem for me.
  • Go to the ALA website and download any and all lists of banned or challenged books.
  • Post quotes to inspire quick writes. I am using this one: "Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people." -- John Adams.
  • Post signs daring them to read the books, or outwardly demanding that they not read them: "DO NOT READ. IF YOU READ THIS, YOUR MIND WILL BE CORRUPTED" -- that sort of thing.
  • Post the First Amendment.
  • Find any and all books in your classroom library that appear on the lists and pull them out, putting "Banned" signs on them. (Make sure you have plenty of sign-out sheets, because they are going to fly off your shelves like hotcakes!)

What are you doing in your classroom for Banned Books Week? We'd love to hear!

Comments (27)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Kimberly Tiner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have often asked myself "Why is this book on the banned list?" Sometimes I cannot for the life of me find anything questionable in the reading save for a surge of deep emotion. I have also come across many parents of students who refuse their child to read a particular book for fear that the young one will become evil or rebellious because of it. Many a parent has refused any involvement with the Harry Potter series. When I ask them, "Have you read any of the books? Do you know what they are about?" usually the answer is "no, but I've heard things." It saddens me that so many parents out there will believe comments made on far ends of the spectrum and not investigate for themselves. I believe books are banned out of fear of what the reaction of the readers will be. I would much rather encourage parents to read books with their children and discuss situation and ideas that come up. Granted, certain books are appropriate for certain ages and parents should be aware of the content, but to ban the book from all students? I think this is wrong! And as an educator how can I encourage ingorance? Read the book so you can participate in the conversation! Ignorance leaves you nothing to contribute to the discussion. If, after reading it, you feel strongly one way or the other - now there is a discussion I want to be a part of!

Thank you for your article.

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm serious. Take your "ban" pun, put it on a button, and use it as a fundraiser for banned books at your own school. Isn't it fun to be the edgy teacher with all those banned books? Bwah-hah-hah!
Thanks for commenting!
-Heather WG

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

"Why did the kids put beans in their ears?
Noone can hear with beans in their ears!
After awhile, the reasons appears...
They did it 'cuz we said, NO!"

Thanks for commenting!
-Heather WG

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...and if you are in a book talk with a student, now you are even modeling the verbal literary analysis! Which promotes rigor and authentic assessment. Can you imagine banning such an opportunity? Tsk on those who do. Thanks for reading Edutopia and for participating in our banned books discussion!
-Heather WG

Heather Ranado's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have also wondered about the banned book list. I am currently in a preschool classroom right now so I am not affected by the list, however, I was when I was substitute teaching. Even as a preschool teacher I think my students are exposed to way too many violent and inappropriate video games, tv shows, and songs. I am surprised by what I hear in my classroom at times. It is interesting that as teachers we are supposed to encourage students to ask questions but when it comes to award winning books with questionable content we are supposed to ignore it. How are our students going to know how to deal with certain situations in life if we never teach them how? This is all very confusing to me!

Katherine's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree, when I looked at the list I noticed a lot of classics. I remember reading "Lord of the Flies" and "Of Mice and Men" in high school and I turned out fine. I am also a first grade teacher and I am lucky I don't have to worry about this. I also think it should be the parents choice, but I could not imagine catering to every parents' needs when it comes to books, especially library books. High school students are old enough to handle most things in my opinion, and should at least be exposed to it in a safe setting like school.

Susan Lorenzini's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that probably more books are read during banned books week than are read throughout the year. I really think that there are many children that are not even aware of the banned books list. It is probably the celebration of banned books week that makes children aware that such a list exists. I just hope it does not come to the point where books are given ratings similar to movies.

Kristen Walters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just may do that!! That would be lots of fun! And yes it is fun to be the out of the box teacher who does what she knows is best for her students!

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You bring up a great topic here: It is our task to teach students to use critical-thinking to make decisions, yet if we are forced to exclude challenging material, texts that force deeper thought, from our curriculum, then we aren't providing those vital lessons. We cannot be scared to teach challenging topics. We cannot be scared to touch on topics that cause emotion. If we continue to "bland-ify" our lessons, we will only promote mediocrity. Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention and for commenting on Edutopia!
-Heather WG

Michael R. Harteis walden's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading your article, my problem with banned books is that we exclude the students that we teachers are trying to reach. It is amazing how we can ban Harry Potter from schools, but instead of worrying about banning Harry Potter, maybe we should worry about banning our children from watching TV between 8 and 10 p.m.; that way our kids won't be influenced by all the violence and elicit sex that prowl the television. God forbid that we would take a book that would strike a student's interest, bring mystery and adventure, and build vocabulary that would be acceptable in social settings.

I really don't care about the banned books. As a teacher, I will pick up any book that will motivate my students to read, as long as it is age appropriate. America needs to wake up and stop being stupid. It's time to realize that we need to get our kids to read--not discourage them from reading.

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