Tag Archives: Intellectual Freedom

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?

Advocate for New Voices

NewVoicesStudent journalists need the First Amendment as much as their adult counterparts do, but they don’t always get the same protection.

In 1988, when the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, students’ free speech rights were left in the hands of administrators who could exercise “editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities.”

College journalist Kelcey Caulder tells how such editorial control feels:

“I’m 21 and a college journalist now, and I still feel pressure to write about things that other people deem appropriate rather than what I think is important or even relevant to my experience. But sometimes I remember— “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”—and I wonder why these rights do not seem to apply to me. Aren’t I American, too?”

But there’s hope. States are able to make laws more lenient than the Hazelwood ruling, laws that would give student journalists the same right to write and speak enjoyed by adult journalists.

The New Voices Project is helping educators, students, and community members to work to have their states pass this legislation:

“the New Voices Act, [http://newvoicesus.com/the-legislation/ ]a comprehensive educational legislation that will…
• restore the Tinker standard of student expression in public high schools. TheTinker Standard (1967) protects student speech unless it is libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a “clear and present danger” or a “material and substantial disruption” of the school.
• protect public colleges from dangerous court interpretations that apply the Hazelwood standard to higher education, where almost all students involved are adults.
• extend the expression rights that public college students expect to students at private colleges.”

North Dakota has passed such a law and campaigns for the legislation are underway in a number of other states.

Join NCTE and our assembly AASP/JEA, won’t you, and advocate for New Voices legislation in your state.

To Select or To Deselect

Reid_Louann“I’m not going to say, ‘this book is about rape, child abuse, and so-and-so,’ because that doesn’t do justice to the literature,”

NCTE member Louann] Reid said in an article in the Rocky Mountain Collegian.

“That just identifies, kind of, reasons not to read the book, and it doesn’t put it in the context that [I’m]using it for.”

Reid is pointing to the very premise of the NCTE Position Statement Regarding Rating or “Red-Flagging” Books

“that literature is more than the sum of its parts” and that “letter ratings and “red-flagging… books for controversial content undermines the process of book selection based on educational criteria.”

Reid goes on to point out how she selects texts in her classes and why she sometimes deselects texts, using principles outlined in the NCTE Statement on Censorship and Professional Guidelines  which explains how professional guidelines, such as those Reid outlined

“help teachers make daily decisions about materials and methods of instruction, choosing from increasingly broad and varied alternatives in order to serve students who are themselves increasingly diverse, both linguistically and culturally.”

Fighting for Intellectual Freedom in the Field Two

PeggyAlbersPresentsKatieWrightwithher2016 HMIntellectual reedom awardAt the 2015 Annual Convention, Katie Wright was one of two individuals, nominated by an affiliate and honored for her work to promote and defend intellectual freedom. Marge Ford received the other honorable mention.

The Nebraska English Language Arts Council nominated Katie Wright for being an outstanding educator, a champion of her students’ academic freedom (something NCTE supports in “The Beliefs about Students’ Right to Write“), and a “go to” educator in Nebraska on the topic of academic freedom and secondary level student projects.

Clark Kolterman who submitted the application, notes,

“This longtime English and Journalism educator has championed the academic freedoms of her Journalism and Language Arts students–working to demonstrate a better understanding of sharing a printed message and helping the students realize the power of the written word.”

“Recognized both locally and at the state level, Katie Wright is a wonderful writing and journalism instructor–promoting academic freedom in her classes, as well as in her school, school district and community. This outstanding educator of academic freedom has, time and again, championed the rights of her students and their written works–standing firm on their specific academic freedoms. She often calls upon the research of NCTE and SLATE to assist her with her discussions as to the handling of various situations in question. She is one of the “go to” individuals” in Nebraska regarding academic freedom in working with the various secondary level student projects…and willing to work with a variety of issues and concerns at the same time.”

Lessons in Free Speech

Reprinted with permission from the Literacy in Learning Exchange:


students discuss the First AmendmentIn honor of Free Speech Week (October 19-25), we asked members of the ASNE Youth Journalism Initiative Student Advisory Board to discuss why the First Amendment is important to them:


Cory Johnson, Wauseon High School, Wauseon, Ohio:
“The foundation on which we built our very democracy which we still enjoy is built on the freedom of speech. The many rights and privileges we enjoy today can be directly contributed to free speech. If Americans did not have the ability to speak freely, nothing more would be accomplished. Laws, bills, resolutions, decisions, and motions are all an effect of this ability. Free speech propels any and all aspects of a productive society. A world without this freedom is simply unfathomable.”

Josie Abugov, Harvard-Westlake School, Studio City, California:
“Freedom of the press for student journalists is a perfect reason to celebrate Free Speech Week, as it teaches the future generation of leaders the importance of speaking up and exploring the boundless possibilities that journalism has to offer.”

Angela Wang, Homestead High School, Cupertino, California:
“Free speech is fundamental to democracy and to the field of journalism. Many times in the past and present, people have attempted to restrict the press from exercising their rights of free speech, afraid of offending others or causing a controversy. These people miss the point – journalism is not meant to make people comfortable, but to report the news and keep the public informed. Although journalists should remain ethical and exercise discretion whenever discussing certain topics, that should not prevent them from exercising their fundamental rights.”

Jennifer Little, Patterson Mill High School, Bel Air, Maryland:
“The right to free speech can most actively be exercised by taking a stance. Too often in American society people become indecisive. We are blessed to have the ability to read and publish virtually anything compared to other societies, but yet people remain ignorant and do not want or ‘have the time’ to form an educated opinion. With this set of beliefs would come the freedom to express and simply have an opinion.”

Check out Free Speech Week’s website for some celebration ideas and lesson plans. Follow the hashtag #FreeSpeechWeek on Twitter to see how people around the country are celebrating all week.

For more information on the Student Advisory Board or if you would like to join, check out SchoolJournalism.org. SchoolJournalism.org is a one-stop shop for lesson plans dealing with the First Amendment, censorship and student press rights. Additional lesson plans and resources on the First Amendment are available at 1forall.us.