Tag Archives: Censorship

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?

First Amendment Rights, Censorship, and Law and Ethics: Why Journalism Matters

This is #8 in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

The First Amendment is arguably the most important freedom for US citizens. We recognize the value of freedom of speech and how few countries grant this right to its citizens, but the First Amendment is so much more than that.

For those who haven’t taken a government class in a while, in addition to freedom of speech, the First Amendment includes freedoms of assembly, petition, religion, and the press. Journalism students understand the nuances of that last freedom. Just as freedom of speech does not allow someone to say “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, there are circumstances where journalists are not protected under the First Amendment, and rightfully so; therefore, scholastic journalism programs help young people understand when and how to use their voices, especially when their readership   extends beyond their teachers.

Unprotected speech includes libel and slander. While libel is written and slander is spoken, both occur when one provides a false statement that significantly damages another’s reputation. While the truth remains a defense against both charges, journalists need to be wary of legal repercussions. Fighting words, imminent threats, and obscenities are also considered unprotected speech.

Student journalists need to take extra care, though, as they function under limited or nonpublic forums. While open or public forums allow anyone to contribute to the publication, school newspapers are usually either nonpublic forums, where administration reserves the right to prior review (approving content before publication) or limited forums, where the audience expands beyond the school community and the administration has a written or unwritten policy advocating student choice in publication content.

Another restriction for student journalists is that they are not necessarily protected under First Amendment rights if their reporting disturbs the learning environment of the school. Journalism students learn about several court cases related to students’ First Amendment rights, including Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al. In this 1988 case, the Supreme Court ruled the school had a right to censor articles published about teen pregnancy and divorce that referenced specific students within the school. The judges ruled that the censorship of school publications can occur when it is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

Journalism shows students in a very authentic way that considering one’s audience truly does matter. Not taking into consideration what to say and whom it is said about can land not only the journalism students themselves in real, legal hot water, but the advisers, administration, and school, as well.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on First Amendment rights and censorship fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9–10:

    Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
    Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

“Do No Harm”


The title of this blog is the title of an article in this summer’s ALAN Review in which NCTE members James Blasingame and E. Sybil Durand ask and answer the question “Who is harmed by book banning?”

“When we choose to abandon books that deal with issues of race, sex, abuse, gender identity, discrimination, disenfranchisement, or similar topics, we hurt the people who live with these issues every day by implying that their life experiences are not worth talking about, or are an embarrassment, or are simply wrong. When these stories are absent from the curriculum or libraries, when these experiences are not reflected in the books and stories that are available, accessible, and taught, then we risk telling the young people who face these issues that their lives must not matter.”

They go on to say

“We are morally obligated to read and study literature that exposes our students to the realities of lives lived with difficulty, realities known only too well by the person in the next seat or the next classroom or the next county. We are obligated to provide our students with literature that may show how some of us, teachers as well as students, consciously or unconsciously, are the perpetrators of injustice against our fellow human beings, hurting people by the hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions.”

So when someone says to you, “Why teach books that might offend when there are so many possible books out there to teach?” answer them this way, “There will never be enough books to allow us to censor some.”

You might add the words of Blasingame and Durand,

“Books affect, change, even save, lives. We are called to share the best of them, not the most sanitized, not the least disturbing, not the most disinfected of society’s ills, but the best of them. We may think we do no one ill when we shy away from the most challenged titles, but we actually do great harm. We fail to provide the means to heal and understand life to our world’s most marginalized.”