Banned From Talking About Banned Books Week

by talkbackty on Sep 27, 2011

This is another post in my series Zen and the Art of Teaching. You can see them all here.

I don't want to bury the lead: I was asked not to talk about Banned Books Week, and I obliged.

Now for the back story. I'm currently student teaching for four months outside of Boise, ID. I teach six classes of freshman U.S. History. However, the class is not mine. I have a mentor teacher who is technically in charge, regardless of which one of us is in front of the classroom on any given day.

In my class I use the white board for a lot of random things, rarely do they directly relate to teaching. I have a area dedicated to "things I need to look up," and an area called "random facts." In my first class of the day I decided to add another category, a list of the most commonly banned or challenged books in the United States last year to celebrate Banned Books Week.

Wondering what that list entailed? No problem, I copied it directly from this site

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Lush, by Natasha Friend
What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Notably, The Hunger Games and Twilight stuck out to my students because the majority have either read or heard about them. I mentioned that this was just a list from 2010 and that some of their other favorite books, like Harry Potter, were often banned as well.

This lead to a short (less than 10 minute) discussion about why, where, and how books were banned. During this I mentioned that books were most commonly banned for sex or drug use- which from the list above you can see is correct.

That was all. I did not endorse any of the books (although I have endorsed The Hunger Games on other days) and I specifically stated that none of these books were required reading.

I posted them merely to entertain and create a discussion. Which it did.

Until I was asked not to do it again, and erase the list entirely.

Reasons given:
"We live in a conservative area." 
"I don't want parents to come in angry saying, 'You told my child to read this.'" 
"They are just freshman."

I did as requested. The list was erased. No more conversations were held about Banned Books Week.

The students are lesser because of it. Not only is it a great conversation to have about censorship and control and the role that different organizations play in our lives; but it allows students to express their thoughts on a topic that is centered around them.

I know sometimes my students can feel a disconnect to the historical topics we discuss in class. Yet, when I try to address a relevant and prevalent issue that involves people their age, I am censored.

Google Maps of Banned Books. View Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2011 in a larger map. 

The entire purpose of Banned Books Week is to celebrate the freedom to read. It was started in 1982 and is organized by the American Library Association.

A movement that is aimed at creating a positive atmosphere where people of all ages can choose what they wish to read should be celebrated at every opportunity. I constantly hear today in classrooms about how terrible books are, how boring books are and how reading is stupid. If what it takes to interest a student in reading is to entice them by telling them the book was banned- I'm all for it.

I want my students to read banned books. I want them to read good books and bad books. I want them to read anything and everything they choose to. Because what I want most of all is for my students to read.

I was censored for talking about censorship.

I am angry and frustrated, mostly at myself, for not taking a stand on an important issue. As someone who aspires to teach children how to become adults, I am ashamed at my lack of ethical fortitude.

I can only hope and strive to be better.