Wednesday, February 25, 2009

K-12 Topic: The Challenge of Censorship

10-second review: A vivid retelling of the 1974 Kanawha County, West Virginia, book banning case that led to bombings of school buildings.

Title: "What Happened in Kanawha County.” Lester I. Faigley. English Journal (May 1975), 7-9. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: Begun in1970 with a local protest against sex education, exacerbated by outside right-wing extremist groups, well organized and funded, the book banning in Kanawha County led to the vandalism of school property, bombing of three elementary schools, and the dynamiting of the [school] board office building. Some of the literary works challenged: Catch 22, Plato’s Republic, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, The Deerslayer, Moby Dick, Old Man and the Sea, Animal Farm, The Good Earth.

The author concludes with this challenge: “The time has come for educators to deal with the motives underlying censorship and to anticipate problems before emotion rules out rational solutions.” p. 9.

Comment: While banning books and censorship are not national concerns in 2009, they will be again, some time in the future, GUARANTEED. No strategy for dealing with censorship is ever a certain solution. Still the NCTE’s recommendations of questionnaires completed by book challengers and committees to discuss the challenges are sound ways to take care of the problem after the challenge is made.

Still, one other action needs to be taken to, perhaps, forestall well-intended challengers from setting in motion an emotional firestorm—rationales completed by English and other teachers for books that are required to be read in class.

Following are the NCTE criteria to be considered when preparing to teach a required book in class. Note that I did not say “required controversial book,” since any book can be censored by anyone and probably will be.

A brief summary of the book.
Objectives in reading the book.
Brief description of the controversial parts of the book.
Appropriate grade and maturity level of the students who will be reading the book.
A detailed plot summary.
Values of the book to the students who read it.
Literary qualities of the book.
Summary of the reviews of the book.
Teaching methods to be used in reading the book.
Assignments to be completed by the students while reading the book.
Possible objections to the book.
Professional educators’ opinions about the values of reading the book.

As a supervisor, I never set in motion this process of making sure that teachers know why they are teaching the required book. One more mistake I made in my career. RayS.

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