Be a Rebel. Read a Book.
Righteous anger. That may be what you feel this week, September 22 – 28, 2013, in realizing that among your favorite books are titles that are banned today in the United States. Published by the American Library Association, the list of works of classic literature that are banned or challenged may be viewed here.
To reinforce awareness of Banned Books Week 2013, I am re-posting the following piece from 2010. As it resonated with teachers, professors, librarians, and media specialists then, may it move you to strike out for the right of all to Think and Learn. Read a work other “minds” deem dangerous. Thank you.
Exercise Your Brain. Read a Banned Book!
Banned Books May Be the Greatest Motivator for Getting Young People to Read
This week, September 25 through October 2, 2010, is Banned Books Week, a yearly observance of the American Library Association. The ALA launched Banned Books Week to celebrate the freedom to read, the significance of freedom of speech and the dangers of censorship. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Call of the Wild, The Color Purple and The Grapes of Wrath are among the books banned or challenged in the United States. And the fact that these works are banned is ironic: the result is to prohibit young people, who we are endeavoring to educate, from reading literature that is inseparable from American thought, character and culture.
But physics is working against the “thinking” behind banning books: tell a kid what to do and she or he will do the opposite. Tell a ’tween girl she can’t read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and she’ll find a way. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and in this fact English teachers nationwide have a tremendous opportunity to get young people to read.
Work with the fact that young people value the rebellious. Introduce them to literature and the life-sustaining value of reading by broadening their awareness of banned books. From one English teacher to thousands of others, here are ways to test this application of physics and motivate your students.
- Give students the list of banned and challenged books, available from the American Library Association website.
- Explain to your students that there are groups who want to control what they read and think. Point out that there are groups who do not want them to think for themselves.
- Engage your class in discussion on the motivations behind and implications of banning books. Then place your selections from the list of those banned at the heart of the discussion. This can be a slam-dunk for getting young people to open a book and connect with the content of great literature. Ask questions such as —
1. What is dangerous about The Great Gatsby?
2. Why would others want to prevent you from reading The Grapes of Wrath and Their Eyes Were Watching God?
3. What passages from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and George Orwell’s 1984 broadened your worldview?
- Initiate discussion centered on the students and their thinking. Presenting students with questions to which they must critically respond is among the top activities that build confidence in teens, ’tweens and elementary school children.
- Publicize the list of banned books for school and classroom independent reading time and, working with the rebelliousness young people value, give them an incentive to read. Briefly present biographical information on the authors whose works are banned. Five minutes on the life of Walt Whitman will get even the most homophobic of students to engage “Song of Myself.”
The critical thinking that goes hand-in-hand with reading literature helps smart girls and boys become compassionate, intellectually powerful girls and boys.
Appeal to What Students Value
Who wants to do anything they are hit over the head with? More effective than mandating a number of minutes in the day students are required to read, position literature in their lives so they choose to read. Broadening their awareness of banned books will help you succeed at an educator’s greatest task: creating an environment in which young people want to learn.
Heidi Olinger’s favorite banned book is To Kill a Mockingbird. She is the founder, president & CEO of Pretty Brainy, Inc., and has worked as a journalist, English teacher, marketing director, and nonprofit executive director. “Being pretty brainy,” she writes, “is about believing in your capabilities and locating the self-confidence to act on your ambitions. It is also the act of thinking for yourself.”
For the record: the perspective expressed in this post belongs to the author and is independent of activities and information provided by the ALA for Banned Books Week. There is no relationship, official or unofficial, between the ALA and Pretty Brainy, Inc.