Banned Books Week: The Dangers of Censoring Free Speech

The danger of limiting free speech  www.hungergameslessons.com

Banned Books Week: The Dangers of Censoring Free Speech
As we celebrate our freedom to read during Banned Books Week, it's important to remind students that many countries are not afforded this fundamental right. Countries such as North Korea, Eritrea, Russia, China, Turkmenistan, and Burma limit their citizens' right to read materials of their own choosing. Roughly two-thirds of the world's population lives under government-sanctioned internet censorship, according to a 2016 study by Freedom House.

Panem is controlled by an authoritarian government who chooses what its citizens listen to, watch, read, and learn. President Snow decides what is appropriate and acceptable for ALL citizens, whether it is real or not. This is not unlike North Korea, where cell phone use is restricted and only the "political elite" are allowed internet access. The government controls what is printed in the newspapers and other periodicals, as well as what is broadcast over the airwaves. (Source: https://cpj.org/2015/04/10-most-censored-countries.php)

So if we think a fictional world like Panem could never exist in the real world, sadly, it already does. There may not be real-life Hunger Games competitions, but there's no shortage of world leaders willing to poison their dissenters. (See this New York Times article and this report from Amnesty International.)

How does this relate to Banned Books Week?
Challenging books--which involves one person or group advocating for the removal of the book(s) from the library or school/classroom--is a threat to our First Amendment right of freedom of speech. It's the first step in limiting access to information like the government-controlled countries previously mentioned. If the door is opened to allow one person or group to dictate what is appropriate for all, it could have negative ramifications, including other persons or groups demanding the removal of all kinds of books for various reasons. And why stop at books? The floodgates would be opened for censorship of all the information we receive. When this happens, our democracy will cease to exist.

We currently have a president who does not speak out against Neo-Nazis who violently protested in Charlottesville, but speaks out against Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who exercise their First Amendment right to peacefully protest the racial injustices in our country. Does this remind you of a scene from Catching Fire?

Are we living in Panem?  www.hungergameslessons.com

 When a leader encourages violence and/or backlash against a citizen for exercising his freedom of speech, our democracy has already begun to crumble. (sources: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/sports/nfl-trump-anthem-protests.htmlhttp://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-race-analysis-20170923-story.html)

Take a stand against censorship: Become a Rebel Reader 
Banned Books Week: Be a Rebel Reader  www.hungergameslessons.comJust as Katniss, Gale, Peeta, Finnick and all the rebels in Panem took a stand against the suppression of information by President Snow, your students can take a stand against censorship by becoming "rebel readers." A rebel reader will celebrate his/her freedom to read and freedom to choose what to read. A rebel reader doesn't allow the government, media outlets, or social media to decide what is "fake news," but will seek the truth him/herself by researching the facts. A rebel reader will step out of his/her comfort zone and read works by new and different authors about people and places and events that are foreign to him/her. A rebel reader will read with an open mind and look at both sides of an issue or viewpoint.

How to be a rebel reader  www.hungergameslessons.com

To encourage your students, give them opportunities to practice being a responsible rebel reader. When researching facts, require students to use several trusted and reliable sources. Surround your students with a variety of reading materials; vary the works you read with your students.

Topics of discussion   
• Discuss how the United States differs from other countries when it comes to censorship of the internet and news media outlets. Many students have experienced some form of internet censorship at schools with internet filters; for most, it is very frustrating to come to these roadblocks when searching for information. The difference, however, is that in our country, there are ways around the filters when necessary. But how would students feel if there were no other options?  

• Using the 2016 election as an example, discuss how social media filters (i.e. Facebook ads that target certain users) influenced the results of the election. If voters hadn't been bombarded with damaging articles posing as real news, would the results have been different? Ask your students why they think some people deem articles shared on social media as reliable information? Why aren't a majority of Americans turning to trusted news sites for their information?

• Ask students how they feel about peaceful, silent protests. Do they think NFL players should be fired for taking a knee during the national anthem? Why or why not? If they think it's inappropriate, ask them what alternative protest could they partake in that has the same impact/viewership?

• Compare today's peaceful protests with peaceful protests of the past. For example, revisit my post about Olympic protests. Why are some athletes punished, while others aren't? Does it boil down to race? What must happen for us to move on as a country?

Celebrate our freedom to read
Even if you are not able to fit any "banned book" discussions or activities into your curriculum this week, try to do one thing: give your students time in class to read something of their own choosing.   Let's ensure that our students realize that reading--and the freedom to choose what to read--is a fundamental right in our country that we all value.

If you are in need of materials for Banned Books Week, my previous post showcases my bulletin board display and warning labels bundle, complete with an introductory activity.

Banned Books Week caution warning labels with bulletin board display

You can also visit the American Library Association's site for Banned Books Week here: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks 


Banned Books Week: Create an Interactive Classroom Display

Banned Books Week Classroom Display  www.hungergameslessons.com

Banned Books Week: Create an Interactive Classroom (or Library) Display
Banned Books Week is always one of my favorite weeks for teaching because I love the reactions my students have when they learn one of their favorite books was challenged or banned.

"What!? That can't be!"

"No way! That's so stupid!"

"No one can tell me what I can't read!"

Students who seem nonchalant and disinterested in reading all of a sudden become passionate book lovers and defenders. It is truly a glorious thing for an English teacher to witness.

So how do you incite this behavior? 

One of the things I like to do is raid my classroom library for all the books that have been banned or challenged. I then cover them up with warning labels with the reasons they were challenged.

Banned Books Week  www.hungergameslessons.com

When I first started doing this a few years ago, I placed the books in paper sacks (or covered them with whatever I could find) and taped the warning labels to the outside. Students could lift up the sacks to reveal the book.

Banned Books Week Classroom Display  www.hungergameslessons.com

Eleanor & Park Banned Books Week Classroom Display  www.hungergameslessons.com

This worked well, but some of my labels were messy or didn't have the "Caution" tape warning. So two years ago, I streamlined all of them into one bundle. You can find them HERE.

The labels can be used alone, on a paper sack, or just with a piece of paper to wrap around the book (use colored paper in a variety of colors to make them stand out).

The Hunger Games Banned Books Week Classroom Display  www.hungergameslessons.com

If you are using paper (as shown above), use a scrap piece of paper or an index card in the back to tape the two ends of the paper/label together. This serves several purposes: it makes the paper/label long enough to fit around the book, it secures the paper/label without damaging the book, and it allows the students to easily pull the paper/label up to reveal the book.

I guarantee your students will be shocked to learn of some of the reasons their favorite books have been challenged and banned.

Don't have books? No problem!
For those who don't have a classroom library, I've got you covered. My label bundle also includes an interactive display (complete with "Caution" tape) to use on a bulletin board, wall, chalkboard, or wherever you can find room. Your students won't be able to stop themselves from lifting the flaps to reveal the titles. 

Banned Books Week Classroom Display  www.hungergameslessons.com

I also made both formats with a blank template so you can type any updated or new labels directly onto the page.

The bundle also includes an activity to introduce the interactive display and begin a serious
discussion about censorship and the dangers of limiting our freedom to read.

Caution Labels and Bulletin Board Display for Banned Books Week  www.hungergameslessons.com

For more information about Banned Books Week, check out the official website by the American Library Association. It includes downloadable posters, a coloring page, lessons, and many other free resources for teachers and librarians.

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