Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read
September 25−October 2, 2010
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them. The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings.
I used to think this was an amazing week in the US.... that is, until I moved to Denmark. Now I look back across the ocean and just shake my head in disbelief, and I know that is because now I live in a country where teachers have the intellectual and creative freedoms to choose materials that they deem appropriate for their classes... a freedom I really and truly did not believe existed!
This week I have thought back to how many meetings I, as a high school principal, have had with ANGRY (feel free to substitute that word with any of the following: disgruntled, irrational, ridiculous, RUDE, hateful) parents. I cannot begin to calculate the number of hours I have used writing emails, answering phone calls, and having personal meetings with parents regarding teachers' decisions to use CERTAIN books (like the ones pictured here) in their English classes---and yes, in those emails I had to respond to questions like:
"Do you know what Mrs. B is asking her students to read?!" (My answer was always yes, of course, I do... I am pretty up on what the curriculum is in my building...)
"Have you ever read that book that Mrs. B is asking her students to read?!" (My answer was always: yes, of course I have read all of the books that are being read in the classrooms on our campus. Of course when I asked if they had read the ENTIRE book rather than the ONE PARAGRAPH or PAGE they were protesting, 9/10 times, the answer was NO.)
"Do you think that book is appropriate for a 15 year old child to read?" (And my answer was always: yes of course I do or I would never have approved it to be read.)
Then the email/conversation/meeting would usually take 1 of 2 directions:
1) I do not approve of this book for my child because we do not allow him to be exposed to things like that... he does not even watch PG13 movies (yeah, right... Oh , did I say that out loud?!?) so I want him to have an alternative assignment while the class is reading the novel.
2) I am taking this above your head to the superintendent and/or school board! I will fight to have this book banned on behalf of ALL students who are not lucky enough to have a parent to fight for them! (yes, I AM SERIOUS)
So then the fight would leave my desk/office and head to the school district's central office... and 9/10 I would be overruled. There were those few occasions where my decision as a curriculum leader for my campus would be supported.... but the more heat the parents turned up, the less chance I or my teacher had of receiving ANY support! Again, yes, I am serious.So for all of you living outside the US, you should know WHY we have Banned Books Week (You can read more HERE). And you should also realize how difficult a high school teacher's job is in the US because there is a always a chance that a parent will not like your choice of allowing the likes of Holden Caufield, Scout Finch, Tom Joad, George and Lennie, or Napolean the Pig into your classroom.....
However this year in my classroom in Herning, Denmark all of these characters plus many others will be making an entry....and I believe that my students will better for it.