ALA has posted a list of the top 100 books that were challenged or banned between 2000 and 2009. The Harry Potter series heads the list, and some very popular works on eNotes are included as well: The Chocolate War, Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Have you tried to teach a work that was challenged at your school? What was the result?
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I've taught some of these banned books, including Huck Finn and Harry Potter. Those were not challenged. The only books I have had challenged are A Christmas Carol, Warriors Don't Cry and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The first was for religious reasons, the second for content and the third for racial reasons.
Two of the stories we have covered in class over the years that some people would prefer we bury are To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
As has been mentioned in previous posts, I always make sure to do two things before we begin. The first is a quiet one-on-one discussion where I approached my black students to let them know that I intend to teach in a way where none of my students feel uncomfortable about the novel we will cover in class. I ask each student to seek me out if at anytime I fail to fulfill this purpose.
My second step is to discuss the background of the novel we will be reading. We talk about the n-word which I ask students to avoid reading aloud, saying or writing in their work. Since I cannot personally presume to know what a person of color experiences based on racial background, I request that we all show sensitivity for others.
I also make sure to stress the ethical center and integrity of Atticus Finch and his sense of personal obligation to provide Tom Robinson with a fair trial.
With "Huck Finn," I stress the strong bond between Huck and Jim, who see no racial divide between them, while surrounded by those who can see nothing else. I make sure they see these two as great friends who have each other's back no matter the odds.
I have been reprimanded several times for the use of some books. Even with extensive background discussions on the Uncle Remus tale "The Tar Baby", I was challenged by a prominent local lawyer and his wife. The story and the video were removed from the media center, and we were told not to teach it. The worst effect on me was that several black colleagues condemned me for it. In Sounder, there was one word, "The bastards" at the end of the movie that got me into hot water. We discussed why a character might use profanity when he had not used it before in the movie. Still, I was called on the carpet.
No, I have not had a book challenged; however, I did see many teachers choosing to avoid controversial books, movies, or even discussion topics in order to avoid heat from parents. I wonder if current books like The Hunger Games series will become a problem in school classrooms or libraries because of parents' concerns.
I teach college, so I can't speak to teaching these works in high school, but I recently re-read Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel in which he quite keenly observes that many canonical works of American fiction are shelved in the children's section in libraries outside of the United States. This is true. In many European countries Huck Finn is read by fifth and sixth graders. I remember reading it when I was ten or eleven (I grew up in Europe). Since I have taught foreign literatures, I have had moments in class where some of my freshmen students looked uncozy with texts that contained explicit sex scenes( and I teach in a very liberal school). I always tell them "it's fiction, isn't it?".
I teach at a Catholic High School. Usually pretty liberal, it was surprising to me that my principal as opposed to "The Color Purple" for a summer reading book for seniors. The language in this modern classic is harsh but, as in the case with so many other banned books, necessary for the realistic portrayal of characters. It is sad that the higher interest books for students also contain harsh language and mature themes and are therefore discriminated against by those who interpret them with ignorance. Students enjoy many books that have been challenged because the characters are realistic and approachable. Teenagers do not like "phonies" (to quote Holden Caulfield). Teenagers like a intellectual challenge in their reading and respond to realistic language.
I have found that the notoriety of a text making the ALA banned list has been of great assistance when introducing a new text in the UK. New texts were received with relish each time the request 'was it banned in America, Miss?' was greeted with a positive. Discussions around the historical and cultural context of texts such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men became valuable elements of discussion (although I found it hard to reconcile the free speech idea).
I will research for myself but, incidentally, what's wrong with Harry Potter? Has JK Rowling really highlighted some issue that Grimm's fairy tales have not?
The only challenge I have faced personally was to Richard Wright's Native Son. The parent is question objected to the idea that a murderer could be a "hero." I simply asked if she had the book in its entirety. She answered no and I explained that I would be more than happy to discuss the merits and overall message of the work with her just as soon as she finished reading the book. She did read it and then apologized for her previous comments. End of story.
Yes, I have had to go to the school board and defend two books, both in a Latino Literature setting - Bless Me, Ultima and The Death of Artemio Cruz. I also had to meet with the administration to come up with a written response to a parent challenge about Fools Crow in my history class because of the sexual content. I was able to continue in all three counts, as most of the concern was based on parent misunderstanding of either the book (which they usually hadn't read) or the way in which it was taught.
I teach all the banned classics! Huck Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye....all the goodies. The only time I've ever had a challenge was to Night. I had one student, whose family was of German origin, who did not want her reading the book. They did not challenge my right to teach it to the class, or to discuss it among my students; they just didn't want their daughter reading it. I went ahead and assigned another work for her, because my right to teach and the other students' right to learn were not being opposed.
I am very lucky in my school. Our 10th grade literature is fairly set, but it contains works such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Candide. As an AP Lit teacher, I can essentially teach any text I'd like. I mix classics with contemporary pieces, nearly all of which contain language and themes considered by some to be "graphic." Of course, even Shakespeare deals with these issues, and it makes for a fascinating historical/literary connection.
Our district has been fortunate that we have not had to ban or pull books out of the library. The biggest issues we have had have been surrounding the witchcraft in the Harry Potter books. We also had some parents express concerns about the Twilight series.
At my school, the English teachers use many of the books on the list in classes. Our school has never banned a book per se; however, over the last few years, many parents have complained about our teaching The Color Purple. Parents argue that graphic sexual and violent scenes are not appropriate for students to read. Our department head always fields these calls and supports the novel's literary merit. He also reminds parents that the novel was approved by the Board of Education (which is largely made up of local parents) and this seems to put out the fire.
When it comes to books on the list, any that are also considered "classics" have always gone unchallenged in the schools in which I've taught. Harry Potter is one that has come under scrutiny, thought I've never taught it as a novel study. I have my students do 2 or 3 independent book projects throughout a semester, and allow them to read ANYTHING, as long as it is on their reading level. Several parents (and some other teachers) have raised objections to Harry Potter, but my theory is that it is an independent project, which is completely open. If parents want to censor their children, that is fine. I'm not going to.
I actually have had a few parents challenge my teaching of Ender's Game as a novel study. Typically it has been because of the silly words at the beginning, like "fart-eater" and the few four-letter words. In every meeting, I simply invited the parent to walk the hallways of our school for just one day, to see if "fart-eater" was the worst of what their high school student was exposed to on a daily basis. The argument back to me was that "in the hallways it is not condoned by teachers." For one student, I was required to come up with a completely different text that that student studied independently while the class worked on Ender's Game. Ridiculous.
AND, in response to #3: I completely AGREE that sometimes the sheer shock value of "allowing" such taboo subjects in a classroom is exactly what students need to make connections. Students want to be treated like adults. I've found, that when challenged to do so in the right environment, they often rise to it.
Well, I am going to be facing an issue when I teach The Picture of Dorian Gray in my Conservative Christian school. The teacher before me taught that though, so at least I am not trailblazing on my own. He did not let students take the text outside of the classroom because of the "interesting" biographical details about Oscar Wilde contained in the introduction. I am going to let them take it out of the classroom, so I will let you know how it goes and if I have a job anymore afterwards!
I always taught Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as others on the ALA list, with no complaints. They were standards in my high school's English curriculum thirty years ago and still are. The town is a very conservative Midwestern community, but very rarely has a book been challenged. The only book I can recall being withdrawn from the curriculum, years ago, was Catcher in the Rye.
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