This week is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, a week each autumn where the ALA highlights the First Amendment, focuses on issues surrounding censorship of information, and celebrates our freedom to read.
It’s one of the best weeks of the year.
But this is the first year in a decade that I haven’t been in the classroom during Banned Books Week, and it’s weirding me out. I put BBW on my syllabus each Fall semester, and I design an activity for my students that is meant to inform and engage them. These are some of the flyers they created last year during an in-class group activity:
And there are always some excellent activities at my college to celebrate BBW: panel discussions, lectures, and one year there was a mock demonstration where we marched around outside of the library with placards to “protest” censorship. Our librarians put together resources for faculty and students to bring awareness and celebrate reading, and they always do a terrific job.
And the freedom to read is a personal issue for me; and it’s not just because I’m an educator and a bibliophile. In 2008, just after I got hired on at MCC in a full-time, tenure track position, a student of mine objected so vehemently to a book I’d used in class that she, her mother, and their pastor tried to get the book banned. Not only did they want me to stop teaching it, but they also wanted the administrators to stop the book from ever being taught again at our college. They wanted to ban it from our classrooms and our library.
I found this shocking, and I was worried my administration might think I was too much of a trouble maker and renege their job offer. But that didn’t happen. Instead, my fantastic deans and the VP of academic and student affairs supported me at every turn, swatted the pastor away like the gadfly he was, and, of course, didn’t even consider banning the book.
This event opened my eyes to the uncomfortable truth that people still try to ban books. This is not a theoretical problem; this is not an old-fashioned problem. This is a problem, now. So we as educators, librarians, and champions of democracy must fight — with great big swings of our book-holding fists — every effort to stifle our freedom of expression in speech or in the press.
This week I had to celebrate Banned Books Week in my own personal way, and of course I enlisted the help of my local public library.
They’d wrapped up books in black paper to hide the titles and authors’ names, and then pasted the “reasons” given to challenge and/or ban that particular book. I looked over the selection and choose this one:
In my Adolescence and the Schools class this semester, we read an article about the ineffectiveness and problems of Abstinence Only Until Marriage sex education, so when I saw “sex education” on this book, my interest was piqued.
I brought my secret book home, unwrapped it, and was delighted when I saw that I’d gotten a book I haven’t read:
Although, really, I was just delighted that I got to unwrap a library book like it was a present. No, scratch that: the library book was a present.
And now I’m wearing one of my Banned Books Week t-shirts (yes, I have more than one), and I’m going to read my Sherman Alexie book this weekend and love all of the gambling and violence and offensive language that are within its pages.
So, my job for you all is to go out to your local library and get a book — any book! — and celebrate your freedom to read!