In honor of Banned Books Week, I am rereading 1984 by George Orwell. My choice of books was inspired by an incident earlier this month in an eastern Idaho school district.
In Rigby, Idaho, in response to a parent complaint about the book, school officials considered removing 1984 from the curriculum of high school senior government classes. In the end they allowed the book to remain in the hands of students.
About three years ago, a similar incident occurred in Meridian, Idaho. The school board removed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from school reading lists, but with a different result. Someone who disagreed with the board’s decision obtained a number of copies of the book and stood in a nearby park after school (off school grounds) and distributed free copies to students as they left school for the day. The teens gladly accepted the gifts. Sherman Alexie heard of the situation and donated more copies of the book to be given away.
What happens when you tell teenagers (or anyone else) they may not read a certain title? Many will find a way to read it.
During my years as a high school English teacher, I took advantage of this bit of reverse psychology and gave students a reading assignment. Around the time of Banned Books Week, students were asked to chose and read a book that had been banned or challenged somewhere in the world. They were also to research the reasons for the challenge. Students then shared what they had learned. They never ceased to be surprised about the books which have been banned throughout history and the reasons why.
The Grapes of Wrath.
The Color Purple.
Brave New World.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Wait, what??? Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? It had to do with mistaken identity. The author had the same name as another author whose ideology did not mesh with that of the school board which banned the book.
There seems to be no shortage of people who wish to control what others can and cannot read.* It’s called mind control.
I prefer to think for myself. I chose my own books to read. I celebrate Banned Books Week by reading banned books throughout the year.
My banned books assignment was widely popular among my junior and senior English students. Surprisingly, in five or six years of my assigning banned books to students, not one single parent complained.
On a side note, my husband and I toured the Library of Congress this past week. During Banned Books Week–how cool is that! We learned that Thomas Jefferson owned 6,000 books. I wonder how many of those have been banned over the years.
Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday and read a banned book!
*I’m not talking here about parents’ monitoring and guidance of what their own children read. Parents absolutely have a responsibility to see that their children read age-appropriate material.