Students mark Banned Books Week 2017

Schools across America marked Banned Book Week last month, celebrating the freedom of expression and the right to read whatever we want, as guaranteed to all Americans in the First Amendment.

See infographics and printable handouts from the American Library Association

Writing in the Bulldog Tribune, the student newspaper at Stone Bridge High School in Loudoin County, Virginia, opinions editor Brennah Lee says we should safeguard this freedom Americans all share. Mindful of the long history behind book banning, she reminds journalists and educators everywhere of the importance of reading and writing and, in so doing, reiterates a message from the National Council of Teachers of English:

Just as our students must have the right to read, broadly and with choice, they also must have the right to write. Our job is to help our students find their words, to guide them through the often messy process of writing … [as they] develop strategies to help them come to understand lessons within the curriculum as well as how their language and ideas can be used to communicate, influence, reflect, explain, analyze, and create. (from the NCTE Beliefs about the Students’ Right to Write)

And so, with the permission of both Brennah and the paper’s faculty adviser, we are pleased to reprint her article here.

The library’s annual Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament and Banned Books Week event took place from September 24 to 30; it focused on the rights of students in the community, including the First Amendment right of free speech. This year followed a “Right to Read” theme.

Banned Books Week is not only a school function but a nationwide event that is sponsored by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF).

“We want to inform students about their rights as a reader. Everyone has a right to read what they want,” SBHS librarian Karen Farzin said. “Although some books aren’t appropriate for certain populations, no one should control what is available to readers.”

Each year, the librarians set up displays in the front of the library, and informational campaigns are posted on the school website and social media accounts.

“This year we’re partnering with Ms [Jessica] Cimino and Ms [Laura] Berry’s 11th-grade English classes to set up the displays,” Ms Farzin said. “They will also be participating in the creation of a social media campaign on Twitter.”

Some of the assigned texts at Stone Bridge, such as To Kill a Mockingbird in ninth grade and Catcher in the Rye in 11th grade, have been among the challenged books to be removed from public libraries.

More and more books have been censored from school and public libraries, and even those that are considered productive learning material are at risk to be challenged and removed.

“Controversial topics in books, when approached in a controlled and specifically educational manner, can be very beneficial, but when it’s just thrown out there, and exposed in the wrong way, it can be very counterproductive,” Principal Matthew Wilburn said.

According to the Banned Books Week website, there was a 17 percent increase in book censorship complaints in 2016. While only 10 percent of the titles reported are normally removed from the institutions receiving the challenges, half of the challenged books were actually banned last year, as stated by the OIF.

“Some texts that were considered controversial in the past are considered less harsh in the present,” Mr Wilburn said. “However, schools go through a vetting process through the central offices, and parents are able to challenge or review any material.”

The risk of a book being banned is present at any time, and students who want to have the choice to read whatever they wish should participate in this event.

“The fear of book censorship is still present,” Ms Farzin said. “In the end, when a book is highly challenged by the community, it goes to [Loudoin County Public Schools] Superintendent Dr Eric Williams to make a decision.”

This year the library challenged students to complete tasks on Twitter for the chance to win a variety of literary prizes. Tasks included taking a selfie with a challenged book, tweeting an author of a challenged book, or sharing a story of an educator who helped you find your voice.

More information about the event was found on the library tab on the school website, the Bulldog Librarian’s Twitter, and in displays, posters, and brochures in the library itself.

“The library staff wants to bring a school-wide awareness to this issue and remind students that they should have the option and availability to read anything,” Ms Farzin said. “They have the freedom of speech, and no one should control what the students are reading.”

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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