Next week is Banned Books Week. Since 1982, over 11,300 books used in classrooms or available from public libraries have been challenged. Banned Books Week draws attention to the effects of censorship, as well as to how the majority of challenged books remain available. Please join me in this annual celebration of the freedom to read.Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian was the second most challenged book of 2012. It is also a book I have first-hand experience defending. A new middle school English teacher read passages aloud to his class, and once he uttered the word masturbation, the witch hunt began. In the end, the book went through the district’s barely used review process. The book remained in the library, but could no longer be used in the classroom.. Before the end of the school year, that teacher was fired for “other” reasons.
At about the same time, the school’s “librarian” (she did not have the required endorsement from the state) began labeling books. Such an act becomes censorship when students are not allowed to check-out books labeled as a certain reading level or marked as being for a certain age group. Placing books on restricted shelves or requiring parental permission for check-out is also a form of censorship. Needless to say, such incidents only helped solidify my decision to leave public education.
Such instances of book controversy beg of question of where to draw the line regarding subject matter regarding novels that contain material some may find objectionable. My experience as a teacher taught me that parents too often assume a teacher is going to dwell on controversial subject matter in an immature to gain students’ attention. Too little trust gets extended to teachers to use their professional training and judgement.
I used to keep a poster of banned books on the back wall of my classroom. When a few minutes remained at the end of class, students waiting for the bell would glance over the covers and titles: To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, The Giver. Titles they had read or would read, but still they expressed difficulty in understanding how a book being objected to in one community may never create any controversy in another.
Reading literature remains one of the safest ways to explore an often harsh and confusing world. So often, the teaching of reading skills becomes an exercise in how to pass a multiple choice test. At their core, reading and writing are about thinking, and one cannot learn how to be an effective thinker if only presented with pleasing or “safe” material.
Banned Books Weeks draws attention to our freedom of expression, especially the expression of ideas that go against the grain. More information can be found on the American Library Association website.
What thoughts or experience have you had in dealing with banned or challenged books?[signoff][/signoff]
Image Credit: Fire I by Leeca from sxc.hu