Tag Archives: Censorship

Banned Books Week 2017: Resources from NCTE

“Censorship is like the monster
under the bed. You never know what
will trigger it, and you’ve got to be
ready.” —ReLeah Cossett Lent

Banned Books Week, which runs September 24-September 30 this year, is the annual celebration of the freedom to read. For this year’s celebration, NCTE and the coalition of organizations that sponsors Banned Books Week will emphasize the importance of the First Amendment, which guarantees our inherent right to read . NCTE’s Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers and schools faced with challenges to texts or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools.

The NCTE Principles for Intellectual Freedom in Education were approved by the NCTE Executive Committee in February 2014. These state, “All students have the right to materials and educational experiences that promote open inquiry, critical thinking, diversity in thought and expression, and respect for others. Denial or restriction of this right is an infringement of intellectual freedom.” NCTE encourages school communities to generate, implement, and follow policies and procedures for defending intellectual freedom at the classroom, institution, and system/campus levels to limit and/or address attacks on free expression. The following principles support the inclusion of agency, fairness, and multiple perspectives in the process of defending intellectual freedom in education. Each of these principles has been linked with resources that may help in your classroom.

The preservation of intellectual freedom in education depends upon the fostering of democratic values in the classroom, critical thinking stances and practices among teachers and students, open inquiry methods and access to information, and the exploration of multiple points of view.
The ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan A Case for Reading—Examining Challenged and Banned Books introduces students to censorship and then invites them to read a challenged book and decide for themselves what should be done with the book at their school.

As trained professionals, educators are qualified to select appropriate classroom materials and resources from a variety of sources given their teaching goals and the needs and interests of the students they serve.
The Language Arts article “Focus on Policy: Intellectual Freedom” outlines details on banning incidents from this decade, the importance of selection, and suggestions for overcoming text challenges. The article includes sidebars that list additional resources.

The Guidelines for Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs presents criteria and procedures that ensure thoughtful teacher selection of novels and other materials.

Professional educators, drawing upon their training and content knowledge, should play an integral role in the curriculum design process at the district and school levels.
NCTE crafted a Resolution on the “Critical Role of Teachers in the Selection and Implementation of Reading Programs and Policies.” This resolution reasserts the authority of teachers as professionals who make substantive decisions regarding literacy materials and instruction.

Educational communities should prepare for challenges to intellectual freedom with clearly defined policies and procedures that guide the review of classroom materials and resources called into question. In the creation and enactment of these policies and procedures, educators’ knowledge and expertise should be solicited as integral, valuable, and necessary.
As defenders of the right to read, today’s teachers find themselves navigating both new and old challenges to the intellectual choices available to this generation. “Defending the Right to Read: A Modern Tale” shares a contemporary story of two educators who put their students’ freedoms first.

“Any book with any ideas of value
is probably going to be challenged
because somebody doesn’t like what’s
being said.”
—Kim Chism Jasper

Happy Birthday, Harry and J.K.!

It’s a double birthday! J.K. Rowling was born July 31, 1965, in Bristol, England. From the stories that Rowling tells about her composition of the Harry Potter book series, Harry was born on a train one day when she imagined the story. Harry’s official birthday as recorded in the novels, however, is July 31. Combine the celebration of both birthday!

The Harry Potter series is one of the most challenged series of books in the United States. The series is singled out because of its fantasy and magical elements. Young adult author Judy Blume, no stranger to challenges herself, wrote an article appearing on Censorship News OnlineIs Harry Potter Evil?, which outlines her reaction to the debate.

Have your students think about why people challenge the Harry Potter books and whether they agree or disagree with the arguments. For a more structured exploration, try A Case for Reading-Examining Challenged and Banned Books, which invites students to take on the roles of concerned citizens, public librarians, school librarians, and fans of Harry Potter and decide whether the books should be banned from the public library. Censorship in the Classroom: Understanding Controversial Issues leads students in researching the reasons several books are banned or challenged.

Please remember, if you face a censorship challenge yourself, you can receive help from NCTE.

Three Days and Two Hands Full of Intellectual Freedom Sessions

The NCTE Annual Convention begins tomorrow and the Faces of Advocacy program includes sessions on intellectual freedom and challenges to texts. Below are two hands full of sessions you might want to check out in person or via social media

Friday, November 18, 2016


Saturday, November 19, 2016

F.02  – NCTE Awards Session –  8:00-9:15a.m. in Room A411 – Watch and listen as Matt de la Pena receives the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Award and Courtney Kincaid receives Honorable Mention.




K.02 Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition: How a Coalition of Advocates Defended the Students’ Right to Read and Attained Unexpected Results

Room A315

Teachers, students, community members, and rights advocates discuss the powerful— and unexpected—results of a book challenge that rippled out from small-town, conservative Appalachia. Learn how an attempt to remove Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits from the classroom spurred these advocates to defend intellectual freedom.

Co-Chairs: Mary Kent Whitaker, Watauga High School, Boone, NC, “Opportunities and Challenges Related to Advocating for Students and for Thoughtful Literature” Hannah Whitaker, Denver School of Science and Technology, CO, “Obtaining Administrative Support for Highly Challenged Books and Rippling Benefits of Teaching Diverse Books for Students of All Backgrounds”
Presenters: Chris Brook, ACLU of North Carolina, “What Fighting for Intellectual Freedom Means on a Bigger Scale—State and National: How Each Fight Continues to Influence Civil Rights” Craig Fischer, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, “Coalition Building and Public Intellectualism” Nathaniel Fischer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “As a Student: Effects of Speaking at an ASU Teach-In, Being Interviewed by NPR, Participating in a Read-In and Board of Education Meetings, and Being Interviewed by FOX News at an ACLU Rally” Kauner Michael, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “As a Student: Effects of Leadership in Student/Faculty Petition Presented to the Board of Education and the Ripple Effect of Father Running in Next BOE Election” Max Schlenker, Yale University, New Haven, CT, “As a Student: Effects of Being a Deciding Student Representative Vote on the School Committee during the Challenge, Speaking at an ACLU Rally prior to Final BOE Meeting, and Writing College Entrance Essays about the Challenge”


K.13 How Teachers, Parents, and Communities Can Keep Students Reading

Room A403

How can teachers keep students reading in the face of challenges to books they have assigned or recommended? This panel will discuss how teachers can address these challenges, by understanding the challengers, creating workable policies, and engaging parents and community members to support them.
Chair: Millie Davis, National Council of Teachers of English, Urbana, IL
Presenters: Lynn Dickinson, HP Kids Read
Emily Knox, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lu Ann McNabb, National Council of Teachers of English, Washington, DC

Sunday, November 20, 2016





A weekend’s worth of intellectual freedom stories and lessons!

The Censors Are Coming: What You Need to Know

Written by member Jeffrey Kaplan, this blog first appeared on member Steven Bickmore’s YA Wednesday blog.

In the highly acclaimed and ground-breaking book Teaching As A Subversive Activity (Delta, 1971), the late Neil Postman and his colleague, Charles Weingartner, wrote about the urgent need for educators to abandon conventional teaching practices – and instead, cultivate a classroom environment where true ‘critical thinking and inquiry’ were highly prominent, visible and recognized.

Easier said, then done.

As the current chair of the NCTE Standing Committee Against Censorship, I have spent the last few years coming to know a highly talented and gifted group of academics, educators, lawyers, writers, publishers and social activists who are all involved in the pursuit and defense of academic freedom – on the elementary, secondary, and even, collegiate level.

Topics like – academic freedom, book banning, and a term, new to me – trigger warnings (warnings that a work contains writing, images, or concepts which could act as a trauma trigger) – have permeated our conversations as we have met periodically – online and face to face – to discuss and carry out the charges of our committee – to provide guidance, support and ‘a shoulder to vent on’ – when educators, particularly public school teachers, find themselves face to face with “those who want to curtail the right of free speech and reading” from children and adolescents.

The conversations have been revealing, sometimes intense, but always, enlightening.

More importantly are conversations about the right of educators – even those who act as “loco parentis” in our elementary and secondary schools – to select and teach the kinds of books and writings they deem acceptable and appropriate for their students. Our conversations – freewheeling and free-spirited – have been most helpful in allowing all of us – to clarify our own thoughts about what is best for children and adolescents to speak, read, write and hear in their classrooms across this country.

As an educator – you too, will undoubtedly, find yourself – at one time or another – asking

“should I teach this book – or this essay – or this play – or this poem – to these students – even though some might find the words – or language – or thought – or theme – questionable? Or maybe, even reprehensible?”

Teachers – especially teachers in a public school setting – are no different from any other state employee. We want to keep our jobs, our steady paycheck and our reputation for fairness, responsibility and equanimity intact – so we live to see another day and keep our heads above water.

Still, we know that teaching – when done right, when all else is considered, and all our students’ immediate needs are met – safety, security, understanding, – is still a task – like no other – for our job is to uncover the truth and to allow our students to revel in its knowledge.

Like journalists, we know that we must always respect what we believe to be true – regardless of how uncomfortable the truth might make us feel – believe – or think.

Teachers must never feel that they should shy away from a controversial book or text or writing – just to play it safe – because they feel that by playing it safe, they will avoid the inevitable.

Yet, teachers should also know that taking a risk – that exposing students to an “edgy read with foul language and a harsh topic” – should not be taken lightly. They should know that when they venture into a “knowable unknown” – teaching a predictable controversial read – they should do so “with their eyes wide open.”

Simply, they should teach knowing that the possibilities of censorship are real, often imminent, and never pretty.

With that said, here are some do’s and don’ts for working with controversial reading matter in a public school setting with children and adolescents…

Share with Your Principal
Want to teach a text that you know will be controversial? Foul language? Graphic writing? Harsh themes? Let your principal know. No administrator likes to be surprised. So, get their thoughts – and permission, first. If they support, you’re half way home. If not, ask yourself – what are you willing to risk now?

Share with Your Colleagues
Maybe, your colleagues have already taught this ‘controversial text.’ Maybe, they wanted to – but didn’t have the ‘nerve’ to try. Or maybe, they have never heard of it – and now, are just as curious and as eager as you are. In any event, never hide. Let your colleagues know what you want to teach and why.

Share with Your Parents
When you feel the time is right, share what you want to teach with your students’ parents. Tell them what you want to teach, why and how. Most importantly, give them a heads up as to what they should know that might be controversial – language, descriptions, writing – so that they, like your principal, are not caught unaware – and as protocol usually permits, let them know that they have the option to not allow their child to read and/or participate in this controversial read and/or discussion – but not to deny the rest of the class their right to read.

Know Your Reason
Why do you want to teach this text – that might be considered controversial? Do you have a rationale? Do you believe it will add to your curriculum? To your students’ knowledge? Understanding? Be sure to always know why you are doing what you are doing – why you are making these choices – and that you can explain your choices to your students, colleagues, parents and administrators.

Seek Your Support
When you decide to teach a controversial text – and you need support – you should seek it. There are many organizations – for example, the National Council Teachers of English and the National Coalition Against Censorship – which are ready, willing and able to help you in support of your teaching and/or challenge to teaching a controversial work. Never assume you are alone; there are professionals ready to help.

Seek Your Professionalism
Teachers teach because they want to “make a difference.” They want to change lives, change thinking, and change the world. You can do that – by avoiding self-censorship – (not wanting to teach something because you fear “trouble,” – and by taking risks on works that otherwise might not be taught – but, can – with support, guidance and “teaching know-how,” – make a real difference in the lives of young people who are wrestling with real and difficult problems.

Seek Your Challenge
Reading, writing, thinking and speaking should never be passive. Young people should recognize that learning requires “stretching” and that coming to grips with difficult, but important issues and concerns is all part of growing up. So, together, you and your students should recognize the validity and value of how just one writer – an author, a playwright, a poet – even a cartoonist – can make a huge difference in the way we see the world. Never lose sight of a teacher’s mission to engage the world – no matter how uncomfortable, at times, it may be.

How lucky we are – as teachers, as parents, as writers, as social justice advocates – and just plain citizens – to have at our fingertips – through the magic of the World Wide Web – so many insightful, thoughtful and informative resources – to help us when we need more clarification in regards to our rights and responsibilities of teachers of social justice…

Resources to Help with Censorship Issues

National Council of Teachers of English Intellectual Freedom Center

National Council Teachers of English Standing Committee Against Censorship

National Council Teachers of English Position Statements on Censorship and Intellectual Freedom

National Coalition Against Censorship

Banned Books Week Coalition

NCAC Book Censorship in Schools: A Toolkit

Project Censored – The News That Didn’t Make The News

The First Amendment in Public Schools: A Resource Guide

People for the American Way – Schools and Censorship: Banned Books

The Huffington Post – School Censorship

I leave you with this remark from Neal Postman….


Resources for Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week, which runs September 25-October 1 this year, draws attention to the issue of censorship and how it can best be combated. NCTE, through its Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers and schools faced with challenges to texts (e.g. literary works, films and videos, drama productions) or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools. NCTE’s work to keep texts in classrooms and libraries provides a public service to members and nonmembers alike when they are facing challenges to literary works, films, and videos. Again this year, NCTE is also a proud sponsor of Banned Books Week.

The following resources explore ways to discuss censorship issues with students as well as ways to respond to text challenges in your school.

For a general introduction, visit this ReadWriteThink.org calendar entry, which links to classroom activities and online resources. Be sure to check out the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “A Case for Reading – Examining Challenged and Banned Books“, which introduces students to censorship and then invites them to read a challenged book and decide for themselves what should be done with the book at their school.

The Language Arts article “Focus on Policy: Intellectual Freedom” outlines details on current banning incidents, the importance of selection, and suggestions for overcoming text challenges. The article includes sidebars that list additional resources.

The English Journal articles “Banned Books: A Study of Censorship” and “Celebrate Democracy! Teach about Censorship” include details on extended units on censorship. You’ll find a range of materials for exploring censorship in the classroom with the ReadWriteThink.org lesson plan “Censorship in the Classroom: Understanding Controversial Issues“.

The College English article “Deflecting the Political in the Visual Images of Execution and the Death Penalty Debate” explores the visual images that readers are and are not allowed to view and asserts that “the attempt to suppress the visual, as in any censorship of the press, is an attempt to limit debate.”

Teacher educators can share “What Do I Do Now? Where to Turn When You Face a Censor“, from the NCTE book Preserving Intellectual Freedom: Fighting Censorship in Our Schools, with preservice teachers. The chapter provides scenarios and the related resources that K-college teachers can use as the basis for discussion and problem-solving role-playing. Preservice teachers might then use the detailed instructions in the SLATE Rationales for Teaching Challenged Books for writing their own rationales.

In the 21st century, censorship in the English classroom rears its head in some familiar and some unexpected ways. Read more in the Council Chronicle article, “Defending the Right to Read: A Modern Tale“.

How do you support the students’ right to read?