Friday, September 30, 2011

Banned Book Week...a teachers' perspective

Over the summer one of my former students posted a newspaper article on my facebook page. It detailed three books that were being banned in a high school near by and she asked if I would write about it. I couldn't and still can't as I have not read the three books (Speak, Twenty Boy Summer and Slaughter-house Five), but I can write about what I feel banning a book at the high school level can mean and I can do that on a personal level.

Every year I give a choice fiction assignment in my honors class, with this assignment I give a list, but I also give a warning, please see below:

Last year I had two parents complain about the assignment because I gave a list of books that they felt were OK for their children to read as their teacher had approved the book in a list. After looking over the books, they didn't understand how I could let their kids read such filth. Now, both of these complaints happened at the end of the unit, after all projects had been assessed and it was essence, shy of exempting the students from the work, there was nothing I could do.
My principal asked me: Would you allow your child to read [he read a part from the book that I'm leaving out only because I don't want people who I know telling the parent that I'm talking about the book]?

My answer: I read that book in high school, I'm not sure now that my mother knows I read it and I'm not sure that she cares I've always been allowed to make my own choices, which is amazing considering how devout my mother is, but there you go.
I didn't want to get rid of the project, the students grades or the ability to let the kids choose what they wanted to read. My principal wanted to make sure that parents understood that books might be questionable. I wanted to make sure that parents could be held accountable for guidelines and papers I give their children to take home.

After another debacle, which occurred during the summer (because it wasn't me, I won't go into detail), we've created the following for the whole department to use:

We'll see if it works...

I'm all for letting my students' parents determine what they read. However, I definitely don't want to be that person...ever...reading creates free thought and I mean all kind of reading, especially the unbridled kind. I remember when I was in high school one of my friends only read romance novels, I mean dirty, making me blush just thinking about it, romance novels and we would tease her about this fact. One day my teacher (and, this was in the world's smallest town in the early 90s) said, "Don't knock what she reads, they're dense, complex, historical and she's reading!"

Over the years, we've had to have alternate assignments for The Crucible (John Proctor says, "God is dead!", of course people don't read the whole play to see why he's saying it or to think about how it's actually promoting the idea of the true Christian, not the hypcritical Christians of Salem), Of Mice and Men (too much cussing, and new for this year, because it is derogatory towards those who are mentally-challenged) and many others. I don't mind having alternate assignments, what you do in your home and how you want to raise your kids is truly not any of my business and, I can find an alternate for pretty much all of the books, short stories et cetera that we read in class. I do mind removing a book from the curriculum or the shelf just because of the mores of a few.

Once we start banning books and censoring their product where does it stop? Whose voice gets to be the loudest? What ideals get to be the strongest?

A List (25 Banned book that I love)
I'm not going to tell you why they're them just because they're good, not because they're salacious.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
3. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
4. Forever by Judy Blume
5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
8. Beloved by Toni Morrison
9. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
11. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
12. The Giver by Lois Lowry
13. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
14. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
15. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
16.  Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
17. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
18. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
19. A Separate Peace by John Knowles
20. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
21. The Drowning of Stephan Jones by Bette Greene
22. Maurice by E. M. Forster
23. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
24. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
25. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Some great blogpost
Lesson 24: Books Are Made for Reading & Hiding Girlie Mags in Class
Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read
I Read Banned Books
Why Banned Books Week Matters
Banned Books in the United States
Still Beating That Old Dead Horse About Censorship


  1. I watched the movie version of Speak earlier this year and I loved it - I wish, wish, WISH I had been given that to read in my teens. Come on! I'm going to order it as soon as I stop buying all these other books I keep buying *shame face*

    I always over-excite myself when talking about banning things because I don't believe in it at all. I like that consent form the parents have to sign as it forces them to take an active part in their kids' reading (not that they usually don't). The Swedish Lit teacher I had in grades 7-9 (age 13-15/, though 12-14/15 as I started school a year early) was all about controversy and had us read the books that had once been banned in Sweden, asked us to come up wth why they had been banned and see if we agreed with it. Some of them were banned for the weirdest reasons - well, times change, but some people are so sensiteve, I swear.

    If you don'd twant to read it, don't - just don't interfere with my reading.

  2. Also, I apparently can't spell to save my life today.

  3. First: more good books while we're on the bend of teenage girl coming of age...Are You in the House Alone, Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones and It's OK if You Don't Love Me are winners!

    I didn't know Speak was a movie...must watch (as soon as i read it, of course). I have downloaded Twenty Boy Summer and already own Slaughterhouse-Five...

    I totally agree with you (spelling errors and all, as I can't spell either) you do what you do and I'll do what I do...just because you don't like what I do does not give you the right to ban it!

    I'm interested to see what books were banned in you remember what some where?

    I like that the consent form does what I assumed all good parents do/did anyway!!! :D and, yes, i meant that just how it sounded. :P



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...