Discrimination in Banned Books

The last week of September is Banned Books Week. Many teachers use the event to talk about free speech with their students. I also use it to begin a conversation about discrimination.
Grade Level

In class, I give each student a banned book. I do not immediately tell them why the book was banned. Instead, I ask them to look at the cover of the book, read the title page and first chapter. I ask them to look at illustrations in the book. Once the students have completed their investigation, I show the “reason” each book has been banned on the overhead projector.

Students then discuss the reasons each book was banned. I use the following questions to guide discussion:

  • Are there valid reasons to ban books?
  • Do the reasons listed for your book seem valid to you? Why or why not?
  • What benefits, if any, are there to getting a book banned?
  • What harm, if any,  is caused by having a book banned?
  • Is age-appropriateness a valid reason?
  • I allow approximately 15 minutes for discussion. That gives every student a chance to discuss their book and their impression of the reason it was banned.

I put up a list where everyone can view it, then have the students start to categorize the reasons books have been banned. Once all the reasons have been divided up, I divide the students into the same number of groups. Each group has a category. The assignment for each group is to create something (a poster, an essay, a PowerPoint, a drawing, etc.) that will help other students to see why someone might see the category as a valid reason for a book being banned, and why someone might see it as an invalid reason. Students should think about the role discrimination might play in the banning of books. Are some books banned because of bias against a certain group of people? How can you tell?

As the groups finish their project, I let them know that the books they have been using will be in the classroom for the next two weeks, to give everyone a chance to investigate them individually.

This plan can be modified for use in the early grades, using banned children’s picture books. (Believe me, there are plenty of them!)

Tressy Hart
Martin Methodist College
Minor Hill, Tenn.

For lists of banned/challenged books and the stated reasons for banning them, go to the American Library Association’s website at www.ala.org and search for “Frequently Challenged Books.”