Banned Books Week 2011

Bookworm Wednesday: Banned Books Week 2011

As most readerly and writerly types know, this week is Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association and a number of other groups try to bring awareness to the American public about the vast problem of book censorship in this country.  Every year groups and individuals challenge and attempt to censor or ban a large variety of books from schools, curriculums, libraries, and bookstores.  People offer any number of reasons for censoring a book: inappropriate language, inappropriate sexuality, religious concerns, the promotion of “rebellious” behaviors, etc.  But, while it is true that some care needs to be taken in when and how you expose certain age groups to certain activities, themes, etc., this kind of censorship is always a fearful, knee-jerk reaction that rarely reflects any true “danger” in the book in question.  And wholesale censorship of any kind is just plain wrong.  Period.

Also, Banned Books Week is in its 30th year now, which is a pretty impressive mile-stone.

To learn more about this kind of censorship, Banned Books Week, the books that are challenged most often, and things you can do about it, you can go to:

The Banned Books Week Official Site

The ALA Banned Books Week Page

Wikipedia Page on Banned Books Week (which offers a little history on the event)

I have been bothered this week by the complete lack of any mention of Banned Books Week on the University of Houston campus.  I realize that state colleges do not have to deal with the same problems of censorship and challenges to books and free speech as K-12 schools and public libraries do, and this is a wonderful thing (though that thing about free speech is looking a little shaky after this incident).  However, this sense of safety enjoyed in colleges should make them the perfect place to start the conversation against censorship of any kind, but especially of books and literacy.

I myself have wanted to discuss the topic with the students in my Composition class.  However, I have so far been unable to figure out how to make the conversation anything more than: “Hey guys, did you know it’s Banned Books Week?”  I want to do more than simply mention it in passing at the beginning or ending of class; however, I simply don’t know how to effectively and legitimately make it a matter of discussion in a class on argumentation and of interest to college Freshmen and Sophomores.  The resources and discussions offered by the ALA website and others mainly focus on K-12 and public libraries, and does not translate well to college students.

So, what I guess I’m trying to say is: if anyone has any suggestions for ways I can bring the conversation into a college classroom meaningfully, I would appreciate it.  It’s probably a little too late to do much with it this year (my class only meets Tues and Thurs), but I’d love some ideas for next year.  I’m also thinking about ways I can get the campus as a whole more involved next year.  Maybe a Banned Book drive?  That we can arrange to be sent to places where books are being censored?  It’s a thought anyway…

In the meantime, go the ALA website and check out the list of Most Banned Books for 2010-2011, and see how many of your favorites made the list.  I think for the me, the one I love most but am not particularly surprised about is Slaughterhouse-Five.  The two books that I also love, and whose inclusion surprises me a little, are Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Which of your favorite books made the list?  What kinds of things do you (or can you) do for Banned Books Week?  And if you have any suggestions for my classroom, that would be awesome!

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6 thoughts on “Banned Books Week 2011

    • Yeah, if I taught a literature class, it wouldn’t be a problem. There’s all sorts of things I could do. Unfortunately, I teach a composition class, not a lit class. It’s a class on writing argument papers and academic papers, so we read lots of journal articles and white papers and policy proposals and the like, but there is little-to-no literary writing involved, and its difficult to find a way to include an sort of activity about Banned Books that still fits into the general format and focus of the class. *shrug*

  1. Pingback: Read A Banned Book! « Socially Accepted Madness

  2. Maybe ask them to write arguments in favor of banning and against it. Use a book they have read or use a short reading from class. Show how you can make the argument even when the content is actually benign.

    Imagine what you would do as a parent if someone started a campaign to ban “Your Favorite Book Here” – make an argument to the school boar defending the book.

  3. “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich”?!? Some of the books on their list are quite astonishing.

    Still, it provides me with a little motivation to finally crack on with The Hunger Games. Maybe I’ll even video myself and join on the Banned Books Channel before the end of the week.

  4. An assignment would be best. In my experience most undergraduate students do not want an education. They don’t value it. They don’t love it. They want other things (at best). They want a job (and college, they have been told, will help secure one), they want their parents to leave them alone (and often their parents just want them to have a job and do well in life), they want to party, everyone else is doing it, blah, blah, blah…

    While someone might like to instill a love of learning for learning’s sake, and while you yourself may have a hunger to know and understand, it is often not the easiest thing to do to engage a class of freshman and sophomores in much of anything that they are not being graded on. I would make them write.

    Ask them hard questions that they probably don’t know the answers to. What should a schoolboard do when parents complain about books that teachers are thinking about using? Is the state in the business of raising children? Is a public school qualified to determine what people’s children should and shouldn’t read? What do you do when most of the parents are supportive of some particular book but a few very vocal parents object? Why is it not a bad thing to keep pornography away from elementary school children? (or why is it a good idea to expose them to it?) Would that have anything to do with freedom of speech?

    The subject of banned books touches on so many important issues that you could have a whole semester’s worth of writing assignments. If you want to engage them about the topic– make them write.

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