AN EDUCATOR'S GUIDE
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"You have not converted a man because you have silenced him."
"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
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
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
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
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
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
LIST OF CENSORED BOOKS
of Huckleberry Finn, The by Mark Twain
of Tom Sawyer, The by Mark Twain
Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Nights translated by Richard Burton
Lay Dying by William Faulkner
of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
The by Kate Chopin
Eye, The by Toni Morrison
of the Wild by Jack London
Tales, The by Geoffrey Chaucer
House Rules, The by John Irving
of Anne Frank, The by Anne Frank
451 by Ray Bradbury
Hill by John Cleland
by Mary Shelley
It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
Tale, The by Margaret Atwood
of Spirits, The by Isabel Allende
Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Man by Ralph Ellison
by A.M. Homes
Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
of Grass by Walt Whitman
by Vladimir Nabokov
of Venice, The by William Shakespeare
Twist by Charles Dickens
Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
of the Species by Charles Darwin
Complaint by Phillip Roth
for Owen Meany by John Irving
Marner by George Eliot
Five by Kurt Vonnegut
of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Night by William Shakespeare
Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
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.