In the movie Field of Dreams, there is a scene at a school board meeting where PTO members are attempting to ban a book: The Boat Rocker by Terrence Mann. This scene is not far from reality. According to Banned Books Week.org, 348 books were challenged by various groups last year. As an English teacher, I see value in teaching literature. As a parent, I see value in censoring certain material for particular age groups. It is important that teachers select appropriate materials, but let's face it: Our students see many things that are far from appropriate. It is our responsibility also to teach life lessons to the best of our ability, though we have to be careful about how much we allow. As teachers, we must learn from the community and use our best judgment in the materials we select. With that said, September 24 - October 1 is Banned Books Week. I've created three activities to explore the concept of censorship, book bans, and specific titles that have been challenged or banned by particular groups.
Class Bulletin Board on the First Amendment and Censorship
It is important that students understand that they have a "right to read." The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) produced the "Students' Right to Read." The article discusses NCTE's viewpoint on censorship in the classroom. For this activity, I want students to understand their First Amendment rights when it comes to censorship and reading. The bulletin board activity is separated into three steps:
1) Provide students with a knowledge base discussing the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and its relationship to censorship. Read Write Think has a great lesson plan on censorship in the classroom that is packed with handouts and informational websites. Another great resource is the National Coalition Against Censorship's Book Censorship Toolkit.
2) Allow the students to get into groups and to research materials they may include in the bulletin board. I direct students to a wiki page where I have taken links from the Read Write Think website to help direct their research. I also encourage them to find other credible websites that will help others as they research.
3) After researching, I allow students to print images as well as useful readings about censorship and banning books. Students are then allowed to construct the bulletin board using information as well as images.
Researching and constructing a bulletin board is a fun and creative way to celebrate Banned Books Week.
ï»¿In addition to understanding censorship and the First Amendment, I want my students to understand why books are banned and who bans them. Most books are banned for age-inappropriate material. This website from the American Library Association provides some great statistics on what books are banned, and by whom and why. I created a chart for students to brainstorm, research, and fill in reasons why these particular groups ban books. My list is not extensive, but I suggested seven possible "people" groups. Below is a copy of my "Who Bans Books" chart:
Download a copy of my Who Bans Books form.
After completing the chart, utilizing PowerPoint, Prezi, or any other multimedia presentation software, students will create a short presentation focusing on one of the groups. Students must include information about the group that banned books, why they chose to ban books, and if possible what titles were banned by that particular group. To be sure students do not do repeated presentations on the same "people" group, I ask students to sign up and only allow a certain number of students to research a particular group.
Banned Books Read-Aloud
2) Find the book in the library or take an excerpt from the Internet. I often find brief excerpts from Amazon.
3) Provide a brief overview of the book and why the book was challenged or banned.
4) Read an excerpt. Students are required to provide a brief background on the excerpt. I ask they do not read the most inappropriate or questionable passage.
Here is a form I give to students to prepare in advance for the Banned Books Read-Aloud.
Download my Banned Books Read-Aloud Student Handout.
Final Thoughts on Censorship
Rebecca Duvall's The Freedom to Read is a great resource for teachers safeguarding the students' right to read.
Teachers also need to be prepared on how they might handle a censorship issue in their classroom. The article "Banning Books from the Classroom: How to Handle Cries for Censorship" from Education World is a great resource if you are dealing with a censorship issue in your classroom.