Sunday, September 30, 2012

Celebrate Banned Books Week 2012

Instead of writing a whole new post for Banned Books Week, I'm just going to reprise my post from last year. This is an issue that, as an English and literature teacher, hits very close to home for me. If you're an English teacher like me, just remember: fighting the good fight can be exhausting. Giving up and giving in is often easy because we can sometimes feel it's just not worth the effort anymore. Know that you have a community of teachers and authors who stand behind you, so keep fighting. The National Council of Teachers of English has an entire center dedicated to anti-censorship so use it to educate yourself and your community.


Celebrate your right to intellectual freedom this week by reading a banned book. Prove to book banners around the country that the only thing they do by challenging books is generate more revenue and publicity for the authors. Because, really, the only thing you do when you ban a book is incite curiosity and cause more people to read it than would have if you had just kept your mouth shut.

For parents out there, the temptation is very strong to challenge books that are against your morals and beliefs, but rather than inciting outrage and uproar, use the book as a teachable moment to talk to your children about right and wrong. Just because authors write books and teachers use them in their classrooms does not mean that we are condoning the sex, alcohol, drugs, and violence that appear in these books. Just because book characters behave in certain ways does not mean that we're asking you to see them as role models. I don't think there's a person out there who reads The Catcher in the Rye and thinks, "Wow! Holden is so cool! I want to be just like him." Ummm... no. Even my lack of sophistication at critical thinking when I was a sophomore in high school saw what a pathetic mess Holden was. So book banners, the fact that you're worried that kids will see these characters as role models regardless of what is taught to them in the classroom shows what little faith you have in teens to think critically. And the only thing you're going to do by attempting your sanctimonious disregard for the first amendment is make kids and adults alike want to read the book all the more.

Another thing that irks me about book banning, well besides the whole going against the first amendment thing, is that people who challenge books are putting pressure on schools to teach books that are clean and about benign topics. Obviously these people are asking literature teachers to teach something other than literature then because the very nature of literature is conflict. And the older students get, the more complicated conflicts become. That's just life. And it's precisely the reason why you saw Harry Potter get darker and darker as the series progressed. He was no longer a little kid at the end. The older Harry got, the darker and more complex the conflicts in those stories became because adult problems are more complicated than kid problems. When choosing books for teens, it is very difficult to find literature that isn't controversial because if you don't have conflict in a book, then, well, you don't have literature! So if that's the case dear book banners, what then do you suggest literature teachers teach in place of, well, literature?

I'm going to leave you with John Green's video from a few years ago where he discusses his frustration over people trying to ban his book, Looking for Alaska, in schools. He makes the point so much better than I do about authors having characters behave in morally reprehensible ways, not to say that it's OK, but just the opposite. Again, as I said before, just because authors are writing about it, doesn't mean they're saying to go out and do it! Have faith in your kids to be able to discern that.

Enter my Banned Books Week giveaway hop: 
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Other posts related to Banned Books Week: 
Stand up and SPEAK out against censorship
The Dirty Cowboy: a book review turned diatribe about book banning
My take on the Huck Finn controversy
Recap of John Green's NCTE anti-censorship session, 2011


  1. Beth -
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts - and for posting the John Green video, I'd never seen it before. I'm looking forward to sharing both with the students in my children's literature courses this week! - Kristin

  2. Great post! I love that John Green video. I post it on Facebook every year during BBW. I think all my friends are getting pretty tired of me beating this drum, but beat it I shall, haha! Celebrate our Right to Read!