"Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Something's written in a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book."
So says the narrator of Bradbury's novel.
While we might like to think we are above such things, statistics of banned books prove otherwise. Last year alone, more than 6,000 books were "challenged," according to the ALA, whose list 2005 list includes "Judy Blume, Robert Cormier, Chris Crutcher, Robie Harris, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Toni Morrison, J. D. Salinger, Lois Lowry, Marilyn Reynolds, and Sonya Sones."
My question is: have you ever taught a banned book, wished that you could, or for some reason, agree with the challenges presented to the ALA?
For reference, a comprehensive list of banned and challenged books:
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Books are sometimes implicitly banned by school communities--banned in the sense that teachers shy from taking them on because of the language or hot issues in them and parental reaction to this. I know of a teacher who assigned Snow Falling on Cedars as supplemental reading, to be faced by irate parents afterwards because of the explicit sex in the book (which is hardly the point of the book). He quickly eliminated that and other possibly offensive books from his reading list (an AP class in a public school). I also know of parents responding vociferously to assigned reading of Atwood's Handmaid's Tale,although in this case, the school--private--stood behind the teacher's choice. The different cultures between a private school and a public one effect these choices and their consequences very much.
I love a challenge and have in fact taught, in public school, some of the titles listed on your link. Bear in mind that I teach in a continuation high school so parents (at least those who bother) actually welcome some of the racier themes because it opens the floor to discuss issues that our students face on a daily basis; i.e. sex, abuse, gangs, violence, hate, suicide- you name it. It takes a powerful book with equally powerful themes to get through and engage my students (who often times have at least one child, are on parole, probation, in a gang, convicted felons, have been abused physically and sexually at home or in a relationship). Since continuation seems to act as the step child to the traditional schools, the administration likes to see that kids are learning- even if the material is questionable. To cover my own butt I always send a letter of explanation, a course of study, and permission slip home to parents and guardians before we read the books and have yet to receive a "no" from a parent. Titles from your link that we have covered over the years in my class are Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Catcher in the Rye, Chocolate War, Of Mice and Men. Most of the books we read are at least on the challenged list because those are the books that get my students excited about reading.
I taught Catcher in the Rye this year to a few classes of sophomore students, and my co-teacher and I shared the ALA’s list of most challenged books with these classes. The students were surprised to see that many of the books on the challenged list are actually books that are on our school district’s REQUIRED reading list. This prompted comments such as, “Well, our school just doesn’t care about what we read,” which opened the door to our exploring the value in reading particular titles and the nature of book banning in general. Other challenged books that we regularly teach include The Color Purple, Brave New World, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
I have one book that was at one time banned in our state, and another that was once banned elsewhere on my reading list for my AP History and Ethnic Studies courses. While I understand what was originally considered controversial, today both Fools Crow and Bless Me, Ultima are considered mainstream literature. This just reinforces the idea, to me, that we should teach banned books, in that often the reasons why they are banned are often later found to be foolishly lacking in logic or validity.
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