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

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

Sue Little's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My colleagues and I have our students read many of the selections on the banned book list. They are amazed that these titles were banned in the first place! It is intriguing to them and they can't wait to read the books and discuss reasons why the books would have been banned during the particular time they were published. It is an interesting journey through our past.

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

It's also an interesting journey through our present, is it not? My students look through the books and try to figure out the "whys." It also allows us to discuss empathy with those who don't approve of the books. They are, after all, entitled to their opinion and even to feel their own children shouldn't read the books, it just crosses constitutional line to ban them from access. Although our empathy ends with "Captain Underpants." Save for a fart joke every now and then, why ban the captain? :-)
Thanks for commenting!
-Heather WG

Cecilia Gaugh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Don't they realize that when we tell children "not to do something" they are going to want to do it? LOL Today parents allow their children to play violent video games, watch grotesque rated R movies, listen to music that promotes sex and drugs,etc... but they don't want them to engross themselves in award winning literature? How does this make sense? Yahoo to Banned Books Week. Read away children....

Jenna Demauro's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am not a literacy teacher this year, but I keep my classroom filled to the brim with books. Words and knowledge are power. I think that is why there are people out there that want to ban books. They want to stop students from questioning but as teachers we are supposed to encourage questions. I encourage students to read whatever they can get their hands on. I am an avid reader and I spend most of my time reading books that are appropriate for my students so I can recommend them to my students and have common ground and things to talk about with them. When children find out that there are books that have been banned, I am always refreshed by their responses. They become outraged that anyone would do that and the students who might not love to read are instantly drawn to these forbidden books. The power of breaking the laws is great!

Andrea Herrington's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am in agreement! I teach 1st grade so I don't have much to worry about a book being banned, but I have a daughter about to enter High School. As a first grade teacher I am often surprised at the things my students are allowed to watch or games they are allowed to play. These classic books that are being banned are nowhere close to being as bad as the things these students see and do today. I believe that it should be a parents choice as to whether or not a student read a certain book not one person in particular. I want my daughter to be fully prepared when she enters college and if she is not introduced to the literature in high school she will already be behind. I know because I was.

Kristen Walters's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed your commentary on banned books. I am a sixth grade language arts teacher and have TONS of books in my classroom for my kids to read. However, I have not given much thought to the banned books list. Looking over the list of banned books on the ALA website I find that several of my classroom library has challenged or banned books in it. Wow! What a rule breaker I am! How dare I expose my students to classic literature rich with learning experiences for my students. Shame on me as a teacher!! I shall "ban" together with others and display our naughty books proudly!

Emily George's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think doing all you can to celebrate banned books week is such a great idea. I would not be surprised if more books get read during that one week than all the rest of the year. After all, when someone tells you cannot do something, it's always the first thing you want to do. Telling a child he is not allowed to read a certain book, it is safe to bet he will do everything in his power to sneak that book off to see why he wasn't allowed to read it.

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