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"Our Nation's understanding and appreciation of the First Amendment is not passed along genetically. It must be reaffirmed and defended, over and over. Keep fighting and keep winning."
—Paul Steinle

In this Guide:

Note to Teachers
Teaching Ideas
Essay Topics
Thinking Beyond
A List of Censored Books

lesson plans


The United States Constitution is taught in elementary school, and reaffirmed in middle and high school social studies classes, but few students understand, nor appreciate how the Constitution applies to their lives. Students are taught that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison fought and won intellectual battles about the importance of free speech in America, but too many students don't make the connection between free speech principles and the freedom to read. Meanwhile, book banning and book challenges are occurring at epidemic levels in school and public libraries across the country. What must we do to help high school students understand why it is important to defend their right to read books like Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451? How can we communicate to middle school students that they have a right to read Lois Lowry's The Giver, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, Lois Duncan's Killing Mr. Griffin, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Philp Roth's Portnoy's Complaint? Why is it that teachers and librarians feel so threatened by would be censors that they elect to play it "safe" and not promote books like Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Robert Cormier's Fade, William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy?

Teachers and librarians must understand that granting students the freedom to read also allows them the freedom to reject a book. It is important to note individual differences, and realize that there are a host of novels that some students are ready to read at 12-years-old, while other students may not be ready to read them until age 14. Emotional readiness and maturity, especially at middle school, is an important factor in selecting books for young adults. At the same time, it is important to introduce students to a variety of genres, and a multitude of literary themes. Most students will innately reject what they aren't ready for. Such guidance moves young readers toward an understanding of the true meaning of the freedom to read.

Every time an adult listens to a student's opinion, they have practiced the principles of intellectual freedom. Students have ideas, and they want to express them. They can only grow intellectually if they are provided the forum to speak. It is important to encourage opposing viewpoints in classroom debate so that all students understand that their views count. This is the very basis of the First Amendment, and classrooms and libraries, as institutions of knowledge, must practice these principles by encouraging the exchange of ideas, regardless of what those ideas represent. There is no place for fear of ideas in schools and libraries. Helping patrons and students, young and old, understand this philosophy promotes critical thinking, and reaffirms the intent of this nation's forefathers when they constructed the Bill of Rights.

The United States Constitution has served this country well. There will always be challenges to its words, and politicians will continue to evaluate its application to some of the social concerns in today's society. But, students must be taught the freedoms they are guaranteed under the Constitution, and they must understand that those Americans with even the most radical ideas share the same freedoms. When students fully grasp these principles, they can and will "keep fighting and keep winning" the attack on books in the nation's schools and libraries.

This guide offers points for discussion and writing opportunities that deal with issues related to book censorship and the freedom to read. In addition, there are suggested activities that encourage students to independently explore some of the free speech questions that may help them as they begin forming their own ideas about the First Amendment and what it means to be truly "free."


1. One argument used by some people who wish to ban books is that the First Amendment doesn't specifically address the freedom to read. Read the First Amendment aloud to the class, and ask them to discuss how this amendment applies to their lives. How would our nation be different if we didn't have free speech? Discuss the significance of free speech amendment in the First Amen-dment. Engage the class in a discussion about the relationship between free speech and the freedom to read.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

2. Discuss the meaning of intellectual freedom and academic freedom. Interview a school curriculum specialist or a college professor and find out some of the academic freedom issues in schools today. How do textbook companies dictate what public schools teach? Debate why many teachers feel it "safer" to teach directly from textbooks?

3. Conduct a classroom discussion about the difference in a book challenge and censorship. How might a book challenge cause school officials to ultimately censor a book? Most school districts have policies that outline the procedures for dealing with challenges. Make available your school district's Board Policy Manual to students. Ask them to find out the school district's policy regarding issues related to questionable books and materials. Invite a school board member, or a district official to speak to the class about local challenges.

4. Discuss how censorship is about fear. How does knowledge and reading eliminate fear?

5. Justice William Brennan, a free speech advocate who died in 1997, issued the following statement: "Schools cannot expect their students to learn the lessons of good citizenship when the school authorities themselves disregard the fundamental principles underpinning our constitutional freedoms." To what fundamental principles is Brennan referring? Ask the class to discuss the relationship between the Constitution and good citizenship. How does freedom require responsibility?

6. Many free speech advocates blame right wing political and religious groups (such as the Christian Coalition) for the censorship problems in the United States. While this group brings most book challenges, there are challenges brought by the politically left as well. Ask the class to compare and contrast the types of things that these two groups might challenge (e.g. the far right might challenge witchcraft, violence, language, and the left is more likely to be offended by the negative portrayal of an ethnic group, or the omission of information regarding sex and other sensitive topics). Have students read summaries of the books displayed on this poster, and ask them to discuss which group is most likely to challenge these titles.

7. In some states it is a misdemeanor to obliterate or deface a book or a work of art (e.g. drawing clothing on paintings of nudes in art books, or marking out offensive words in novels). Debate whether this is censorship, vandalism, or both. Find out your state laws regarding this issue. Another common tactic among censors is to check a book out of a library and refuse to return it. Discuss the motive behind this scheme. Find out if there are laws in your state that assist libraries in dealing with such acts.

8. In Cedarville, Arkansas, the parents of a fourth grader challenged the school board's decision to place Harry Potter on a restricted borrowing list. Ask the class to discuss why a restricted borrowing list is considered a form of censorship. How were these parents promoting the principles of intellectual freedom? How do words like restricted and parental permission only enhance a person's curiosity about a book? Why do some schools succumb to this practice?

9. People challenge and censor books for many different reasons. Among the most common reasons are: sexually explicit scenes, offensive language, unsuited to age group, occult themes or promoting the occult or Satanism, violence, homosexual themes, and promoting a religious viewpoint. Ask student to discuss how these common reasons for challenging a book applies to the titles on this poster.

10. Fantasy and science fiction is often censored on the grounds that the symbolism is "anti-Christian" and "anti-establishment." Ask students who are fantasy and science fiction fans to identify symbolic elements in some of the books they have read and create for an explanation of the symbolism. Prepare an argument that the symbolism in this genre is the element that challenges the reader to think about "difficult choices" one faces in the real world.

11. Ask students to list favorite works of fantasy, beginning with fairy tales that they read when they were younger, and in-cluding works of high fantasy. Discuss the common elements of the genre. (e.g. good vs. evil, magic, dangerous quests, etc.) Ask students to discuss some of the moral lessons learned in works of fantasy. How does fantasy relate to the real world? Engage the class in a discussion about why fantasy is targeted by censors. What is a good re-buttal to someone who believes that the young shouldn't read works of fantasy?

12. Golda Meir once said, "One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present." Why must we understand history in order to appreciate the present, and change the future? Discuss the history lessons in Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

13. It was reported to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom that in 1997 a school superintendent in Marysville, California removed Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger to "get it out of the way so that we didn't have that polarization over a book." Discuss how "polarization" can lead to healthy discussion. How does listening to all opinions promote the principles of intellectual freedom?

14. Violence in books and the media has become a concern for parents and school officials since the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Debate whether the restriction of such books would prevent violent acts in public schools. How can books dealing with violence help adults and teenagers enter into conversation about such tragedies? How is not talking about violence more serious than talking about it?

15. Stage a talk show featuring a parental challenge to one of the books shown on the poster. The host or hostess of the show should give a brief synopsis of the book and an overview of the challenge. Guests should include: parents who oppose the book, parents who support the book, a school or public library board member, a librarian, and several young adults who have read the book. Ask students in the audience to be prepared with pertinent questions.

16. A Banned Books Week Theme is "Let Freedom Read: Read a Banned Book." After the class has participated in a thorough discussion about the First Amendment and the freedom to read, ask them to prepare a dramatic interpretation of the Banned Books Week theme. Encourage them to perform for a PTA group, and other classes in their school. In addition, there are suggested activities that encourage students to independently explore some of the free speech questions that may help them as they begin forming their own ideas about the First Amendment and what it means to be truly "free."


1. Ask students to write an interpretation of one of the following quotes:

"Every burned book enlightens the world." —Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame." —Oscar Wilde

"Fear of ideas makes us impotent and ineffective." —William O. Douglas

"You have not converted a man because you have silenced him." —John Morley

"Only the suppressed word is dangerous." —Ludwig Byrne

"Free speech is life itself." —Salman Rushdie

2. There are people who believe that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn isn't appropriate for middle and high school students, and they challenge it because they feel that it is a racist book. Think about the relationship between Huck Finn and Jim, and write an essay titled "Huck Finn Wasn't a Racist."

3. Ask students to research the life and works of Socrates. Then have them write and illustrate a comic book (in the style of a classic comic) that communicates Socrates' beliefs regarding free speech.

5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is one of the most censored books in America. Parents who don't want their teenagers to read the book object to the realistic images, specifically the rape scene. Literary critics feel that the book is an extremely moral book. Ask students to write an essay defending the novel based on the moral issues and themes in the book.

6. Like many works of fantasy and science fiction, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein deals with themes of dangerous and destructive knowledge. Think about the technology age that we live in, and write an essay that makes a connection between novels like Frankenstein to the reality of the 21st century. Discuss whether this is what makes censors nervous.

7. Judy Blume has made the following statement regarding book censorship: "It's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written... As always, young readers will be the real losers." Write a response to Blume's statement by discussing what young readers would have lost if Lois Lowry had not written The Giver, Louise Fitzhugh had not created Harriet the Spy, and Marion Dane Bauer had not written On My Honor.

8. Robert Cormier's books have been under attack by censors for his "negative portrayal of human nature," and because the endings appear hopeless since the good guys don't always win. Cormier responded to this criticism by stating that he was simply writing realistically. Read one of Cormier's works, and write a rebuttal to the censors. What is the responsibility of the writer to present life as it is?

9. React to the following words of Jamaica Kincaid: "No word can hurt you... No idea can hurt you. Not being able to express an idea or a word will hurt you much more. As much as a bullet."

10. Contrast the meaning of intellectual freedom and censorship. Write an essay that explains the thought that intellectual freedom is about respect, and censorship about disrespect.

11. Encourage students to write an editorial for the local newspaper about Banned Books Week and teenagers' right to read.


1. Refer middle school students to www.kidspeakonline.org/iq.html and ask them to take the Censorship IQ test. After they receive their scores, have them administer the test to 10 friends. Ask them to make note of the questions that receive the most right and wrong answers. Based on the results of the test, what do we need to do in schools to help students better understand First Amendment issues?

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was published in 1885, and is one of the most challenged and banned books in the United States. Have students research some of the challenges to Twain's book, beginning with its ban in 1885 from the Concord Massachusetts Public Library. Ask them to construct a timeline that reveals the various reasons that the book has been challenged from the date of publication to the present. How do the reasons for the challenges reflect society at the time?

3. Encourage students to visit the web sites and find out the purpose of the following organizations:

The Freedom to Read Foundation

The American Civil Liberties Union

The Freedom Forum

The People for the American Way

The National Coalition Against Censorship

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Instruct them to pick one of these organizations and produce a video for an advertisement campaign that the organization might run for Banned Books Week.

4. Students may want to read Judy Blume's comments about censorship on her website. Encourage them to search the Internet for websites of other favorite writers. How many of the writers refer to censorship on their sites? Some writers have designed their websites to receive email from fans, or a place to post questions. Students may wish to ask pertinent questions regarding book censorship.

6. Using a magazine database in your school or public library, locate articles about book challenges in the United States in the past five years. Write a brief description of each case. Group your findings by area of the country. Which region appears to have the most problem with book challenges?

8. Ask students to read about Justice Hugo L. Black and Justice William O. Douglas, two former Supreme Court justices who are con-sidered the strongest champions of The Bill of Rights in the history of the Supreme Court. Then have them research the nine current Supreme Court justices and their record on free speech issues. Which of the current justices is most likely to follow in the footsteps of Justice Black and Douglas?

9. Send students to the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and ask them to read about the recipients of the Jefferson Muzzles. These people or organizations are named Muzzles because they have forgotten or violated Thomas Jefferson's belief that "freedom of speech cannot be limited without being lost." Encourage students to read the newspaper and news magazines and identify people who might be candidates for the Jefferson Muzzles.

10. Have students research the career of Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Why is it appropriate that the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression give a free speech award in his honor? Read about some of the people who have been honored with this award.

11. Students with a particular interest in web page design may want to create an informational website that focuses on book censorship and students' First Amendment rights. Encourage them to provide hyperlinks to pertinent sites on the Internet, and to generate a bulletin board feature where students can log in and express their ideas.


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The by Mark Twain
Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The by Mark Twain
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Arabian Nights translated by Richard Burton
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
Awakening, The by Kate Chopin
Bluest Eye, The by Toni Morrison
Call of the Wild by Jack London
Candide by Voltaire
Canterbury Tales, The by Geoffrey Chaucer
Cider House Rules, The by John Irving
Diary of Anne Frank, The by Anne Frank
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fanny Hill by John Cleland
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
Handmaid’s Tale, The by Margaret Atwood
House of Spirits, The by Isabel Allende
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Jack by A.M. Homes
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Merchant of Venice, The by William Shakespeare
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
Portnoy’s Complaint by Phillip Roth
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Ulysses by James Joyce


This Teacher's Guide was written by Pat Scales, who is the director of Library Services at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, South Carolina. She spent 28 years as a librarian in a middle school and has taught children's literature at Furman University since 1976. She received the ALA/ Grolier Award in 1997 for her programs promoting reader guidance for children and young adults. In 1983, she was honored with the AASL/SIRS Intellectual Freedom Award, and was recently featured in Library Journal's special edition, "Movers and Shakers: The People Who Are Shaping the Future of Libraries." Scales served as chair of the 1992 Newbery Award Committee, the 2001 Laura Ingalls Wilder Committee, and is the chair of the 2003 Caldecott Award Committee. She writes teacher's guides for children's and young adult novels for Random House and other publishers, and is a regular contributor to Book Links magazine. She is also the author of Teaching Banned Books: 12 Guides for Young Readers, published by The American Library Association.