Monday, July 20, 2009

Topic: Censorship

10-second review: Recommendations from the National Council of Teachers of English to prepare for possible censorship incidents.

Excerpt from Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris. 2004, pp. 439-440; 433.

My Experience with Censorship

In my twenty years as K-12 English supervisor in a suburban Philadelphia community, I was faced with two cases of censorship. In the first case, the teacher had failed to read the book ahead of time and was unaware of several graphic scenes. In the second case, an African-American father was sincerely afraid that an inflammatory scene in a play would set off cross-burnings and even violence. Coincidentally, cross-burnings did take place in a neighboring school district.

From both these cases, I learned that censorship events are complicated, emotional and that a censor’s point of view can have a grain of truth about which the sincere censor feels very strongly. I also learned that any one can censor any book or piece of material for any reason and that logic does not help to alleviate the situation.

If teachers cannot avoid censorship incidents, at least they can prepare for them, that is, be ready if the situation arises. The National Council of Teachers of English has been a leader in helping schools prepare for censorship. Their recommendations?

1. Questionnaire. Ask people who are challenging a literary work to complete a questionnaire, explaining their objections to the work. Such a questionnaire helps to determine how much thought has gone into the challenge. For example, one question from such a questionnaire asks if the person making the challenge has read the work in its entirety. You will find an example of a questionnaire at the Web site of the NCTE,

2. Committee. Submit the challenge to a committee consisting of teachers, administrators, parents and older students to evaluate the challenge and to make recommendations for the work’s future use in the curriculum or in the library collection.

3. Rationales. Teachers should prepare rationales for reading controversial books. Since all books can be challenged by someone, perhaps all books to be taught as part of the English curriculum should have rationales developed by the English department. Preparing rationales should help teachers decide on the appropriateness of the literary works they plan to teach. Rationales for many standard literature selections can be found at the Web site of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE),

Here is an example of what a rationale would consist of:

A brief summary of 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.

Objectives in using 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.

4. Alternative Literary Work. Explain to students and to their parents the reasons for reading the play, novel or short story and discuss possible objectionable issues. Provide an alternative work for students who are uncomfortable in reading about and discussing a particularly sensitive issue.

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