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Banned Books Week: Slaying Censorship

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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illustration of a book with a lock and chains around it

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. (Teenage sex was the focus of this teen fiction.) 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.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

A few years back, the series about teen vampires, Twilight, was all the rage. I reviewed the series on my own website, and I admit I was not a fan. But the theme of my review 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!

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Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

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Andrea Herrington's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hey! You go!! I have a seventh grader and I hope she has teachers like you. I want her to be prepared for what the real world is like. Many of the classics are great life stories and teach great lessons.

Casey Stanford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great idea! I love how you set up your library with the caution tape and the crossed out books. I have seen the banned book tables at places like Barnes and Noble and always questioned why they were banned. The ALA Banned Book List states the facts, but doesn't always have the reasoning. I would be curious to know why some of these books were banned. I am sad that I missed "Banned Book Week". I need to keep up with my blogging more frequently. Thanks for the idea.

-Casey Stanford
Gorman, CA
Grades 6-8

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified) can only do so much until you learn more. There's always next year. It can be frustrating to learn a new way to teach something too, something that would have totally rocked the unit you just finished if only you had known about it then! No worries. Touch base with Edutopia next year in early September for a refresher in Banned Books Week planning. Thanks for checking in this year and for commenting.
-Heather WG

Stephanie Gage's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love, LOVE, love the idea of discussing the "whys" with students after reading a banned book - I just see so many ways to tie in history and social studies lessons! I'm sure there's even more that I haven't even thought of yet! Since I am currently a pre-service teacher and have yet to get into the classroom, I was wondering if issues arise with parents when celebrating Banned Book Week in the classroom. Has anyone had an experience in which their plans were thwarted due to some unhappy parents? Then what?

Hali Warmbrodt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing such a wonderful idea. I am a first year teacher in a rural area and I really benefit from experienced teachers sharing their ideas. We as educators need to think harder about what we are keeping from our students and why. We also need to realize that a lot of these materials that we are banning are the things that inspire real critical thinking. I agree that we shouldn't rely on a small group of know-it-alls to tell us what we should and shouldn't teach. We need to do more research on our own to make decisions about what should be in our classes. Again, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with newbies like me.

Hali Warmbrodt

Heather WolpertGawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Don't put your newbie-ness down! Just as a veteran teacher does not necessarily mean burn-out, a new teacher does not necessarily mean green. After all, you've already found on online community right here at Edutopia and you've made the jump from reader/lurker (hate that term) to participator. Congrats! You're on your way to becoming an even better teacher, as evidenced by your seeking out means to learn and remain a student in our own right. Next time, share what you do too so that we may all learn from you as well. Thanks for diving in, and I hope to see your name again soon.
-Heather WG

jazmyne's picture

i am a student and they have banned lord of the flies.... my question is what is the real reason why? people dont see the plus side of why teens can learn from these "banned" teaches us what not to do or at least there are different ways to handle situations. lord of the flies taught me that there is a thing inside of us humans that can be changed. not the dumb reasons like "sexual content", or "racism".
Be seerious people we all know that we have some type of beast within us! The book is just saying we can control and that we know when its about to show! think about it, re-read it!

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Check out all of the events happening to celebrate Banned Book Week on their webiste:

Here are just a couple of events happening this year:

Spotlight on Banned Books Week Heroes: students and teachers from Glen Ellyn, IL
Sep 24 2013 - 4:19pm
Throughout Banned Books Week, we will feature Banned Books Week Heroes--outstanding individuals who defended their freedom to read. Today's featured Heroes are the students and teachers of Glen Ellyn, IL, who fought to keep Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower in their school district.

Khaled Hosseini for the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out!
Sep 24 2013 - 2:13pm
On the third day of Banned Books Week, we would like to feature a video from Khaled Hosseini reading a passage from his frequently challenged novel, The Kite Runner.

Spotlight on a Banned Books Week Hero: Tony Diaz, Librotraficante
Tony Diaz
Sep 23 2013 - 4:07pm
It takes courage to protect intellectual freedom and the freedom to read. To that end, the sponsors of Banned Books Week have identified outstanding individuals and groups who have stood up to defend their freedom to read by honoring them with the title Heroes of Banned Books Week.

Google Hangouts with banned/challenged authors
Sep 22 2013 - 7:19pm

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