Students Have a Right to Read?
United States History, Language Arts
have the right to learn. Teachers have the right to teach.
Parents have the right to know what their children are learning
and the freedom to protest if they consider it unsuitable or detrimental.
Americans have the right to control their local schools by appointing
or electing school board members who assume legal responsibility
for budgetary and curriculum matters.
almost inevitable that the interests of all these groups will often
collide. One result can be challenges to books on public school
this interdisciplinary lesson, students use several sources to learn
how the First Amendment protects their access to books in the school
library. Students examine a Supreme Court decision and their own
school district's policy about the removal of controversial books
from school libraries. Students will create a mock call-in radio
program and write a position paper or editorial.
lesson requires co-teaching with the school librarian and/or a school
administrator. Review the lesson with these individuals ahead of
time so that they will understand their roles in helping students
understand your district's school-library policies. The librarian
can also assist you in putting together a display of banned and/or
challenged books to use with the lesson.
First Amendment has a role in affording the public access to discussion,
debate and dissemination of information and ideas.
First Amendment right to distribute literature also protects the
right to receive it.
First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of
the press extend to public school libraries.
boards cannot restrict the availability of books in public school
libraries simply because school-board members disagree with certain
ideas or content.
officials may remove books from the public school library based
on educational suitability, but they may not "prescribe what shall
be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters
First Amendment affirms the freedom of the individual.
First Amendment tells the government to keep its "hands off" our
religion, our ideas, our ability to express ourselves.
people have rights, too.
Ask students what Of Mice and Men, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone and the Bible have in common. The answer? They have all
been challenged or banned in public schools. Display a selection
of banned or challenged books in a prominent place in your classroom.
Include in this selection books meant for children and any that
might be taught in your school's English program. The books may
also come from your school's library. Ask students to speculate
on what these books have in common. If no one mentions the correct
answer, explain that these also have been challenged or banned or
that students' access to them in school has been prohibited.
Your school librarian may have American
Library Association material on challenged or banned books.
many of these books have students read? If students have read any
of the books on display, did they find them to be entertaining,
informative, beneficial or objectionable? Can they suggest reasons
why someone would object to elementary, middle school or high school
students reading these books?
Remind students that the First Amendment protects free speech and
a free press. Discuss the First Principles
that apply to this lesson, explaining that these are some of the
ways in which the First Amendment has served U.S. citizens.
people are able to choose freely among many different competing
ideas, they make better choices.
to competing ideas provides us with variety, enriching our society.
whose strongly held, unpopular opinions are given an outlet may
be less apt to resort to violence than if their ideas are suppressed.
many decisions in our society are made by the majority, protection
of minority rights ensures that the ideas of smaller, less popular
groups are not suppressed by the majority. In time, the majority
may come to agree with these minority groups.
ability to criticize the government helps prevent the government
from misusing its power.
check for student understanding, ask students to give a journal
response to this question: "Which benefits of the First Amendment
does reading most clearly provide us?"
Next, ask students to define censorship, the act of examining and
expurgating (removing) something objectionable. What effect does
book censorship have on an individual's ability to recognize the
benefits of the First Amendment? Explain to students that the
pressures to suppress freedom of expression are widespread and powerful
in society. This is why it is so important to fully understand the
benefits of free expression of ideas to society. Ask students to
review the responses in their journal entries (Procedure 1) as they
consider the effects book censorship might have on the benefits
of free expression.
In 1982 the Supreme Court examined the issue of book censorship
in school libraries. Distribute Case Study: Board
of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico
(1982). Review the facts of the case with students. Individually,
students should identify the best arguments for Opinion A and for
Opinion B by listing the arguments in two columns. During class
discussion, students should be prepared to give reasons for their
selection of arguments.
to students that Opinion A was the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision
in the case Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School
District v. Pico (1982). The court held that "as centers for
voluntary inquiry and the dissemination of information and ideas,
school libraries enjoy a special affinity with the rights of free
speech and press.
the Board could not restrict the availability of books in its libraries
simply because its members disagreed with their idea content." Returning
once again to their First Amendment benefits, can students find
references to the benefits of First Amendment free expression in
the justices' writings excerpted here?
Explain to students that as a result of the Board of Education,
Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico Supreme Court
case, public school districts around the country developed policies
concerning book challenges in elementary, middle and high school
libraries. Students have a First Amendment right to receive the
ideas discussed in books, but this right is interpreted in light
of the special characteristics of the school environment. The
court held that school officials may not remove books from a school
library simply because they do not like the messages conveyed. School
officials may remove books from the school library based on educational
suitability as long as the motivation is for reasons other than
content, such as preventing student exposure to obscene or vulgar
copies of your school's policy on removing books from the school's
library. Invite the school librarian and/or school administrator
to explain the policy to students.
some specific questions:
the policy ever been used in your school?
makes library acquisition decisions?
students have full First Amendment rights at school?
might the age of students limit their First Amendment rights?
the school policy:
the policy reflect the viewpoints of various groups in your community?
what extent is it content-neutral?
it include a fair appeals process?
students think the policy is consistent with the First Amendment?
Divide students into four groups. They will create a call-in radio
show. The topic for the show: "Banning Books - Should school administrators
have the authority to remove books from public school libraries?"
To assist the teacher, "Organize
a Call-in Radio Show" is provided.
Have students write a position paper or editorial
on the topic of whether school administrators should have the authority
to remove books from public school libraries.
Have students select and read a book that has been banned or challenged.
There are several online sources for books: the American
Library Association Banned Books Week, The
On-Line Books Page presents Banned Books On-Line, and Bonfire
of Liberties. Ask students to develop a report that focuses
on the importance in their own lives of the freedom of expression
provided by reading. In their reports, students should include their
own beliefs about book censorship by taking and defending a position
on the particular banned book they have read.
Discuss your school's selection-of-instructional-materials policy
with the school librarian. How does the library help meet the educational
mission of your school? How does the school's policy compare with
guidelines suggested by the American Library Association?
might prepare a list of suggested acquisitions for the library.
Are there certain areas of the collection that need to be strengthened,
such as art and computer graphics, constitutional law and history,
literature or science and technology? Students must find the cost
of each book, periodical, film and CD on their list. Provide students
with a budget and divide them into groups to debate which items
must remain on the list and which must be deleted in order to meet
the budget. Have groups share their final list with the class and
school librarian. Then discuss how the librarian makes final choices
in order to meet the academic goals of the school, to balance and
update selections and to avoid waste.
Freedom to Read Statement
joint statement of the American Library Association and Association
of American Publishers, endorsed by 18 additional organizations.
American Library Association Library Bill of Rights
The Library Bill of Rights and its applications.
Students' Right to Read
National Council of Teachers of English position paper.
to shut out the light by banning books"
Amendment ombudsman Paul McMasters probes over 500 years of censorship
attempts: "Mainz may have been the birthplace of both the printing
press and the banning of books, but censorship itself was born
in the fearful heart of the first human being."
controversies in schools defy easy answers"
Haynes provides perspective on attempts to remove books from classrooms
Library Association's resource guide, challenged-and-banned-books
kits and ways to celebrate your freedom to read.
Amnesty International encourages the reading of works by individuals
who were persecuted because of "the writings that they produce,
circulate or read."
National Council of Teachers of English provides guidelines for
dealing with censorship of nonprint materials, selecting materials
for English Language Arts programs, and defending teaching methods
and rationales for challenged books.
of Curriculum Materials.
ERIC Digest Series Number EA44 ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational
Management provides an overview of censorship in the school environment
and guidance for handling controversy when it occurs.
Against Bad Books In Schools
Begun in 2001 by a group of eight parents in Fairfax County, Va.,
PABBIS seeks to establish specific standards for appropriate reading
material for children of different age groups. In order to inform
parents of the mature content in the literature their children
are reading in school and choosing from summer reading
lists, the site links to sexually explicit and violent quotations
from over 40 books.
History Sourcebook: Council of Trent: Rules on Prohibited Books
Primary source for condemnation of certain books.
2000 Jefferson Center Muzzle Award was given to the Rockingham
County (Va.) School Board, et. al, who reprimanded a Spotswood
High School English teacher for posting on his classroom door
the American Library Association pamphlet that listed banned books.
Prepares to Defend High School Teacher's Right to Post List of
Banned Books Press release and 1999 letter in support of free
speech rights of Spotswood (Va.) H.S. English teacher.
v. Rockingham County Schools
Constitution in the Classroom Web site provides the document filed
in the United States District Court for the Western District of
Virginia, January 12, 2000, analysis of the school board's arguments,
and plaintiff's dismissal of the case after the resignation of
Potter tales top list of most challenged books of 1999"
the debate over 'Harry Potter'"
a parent of member of the community is not wild over Harry Potter
- or another book - what should your response be? Charles Haynes
offers three suggestions and a word of advice.
#76: "Is Harry Potter Evil?"
National Coalition Against Censorship reprints Judy Blume's essay
that was published originally in October 1999 in The New York
Times. Blume knows censorship. Her works have often been challenged.
Coalition Against Censorship
Articles, reprints and online resources for schools about censorship
issues. NCAC was founded in 1974, an alliance of more than 40
national nonprofit organizations.
First Amendment Cases
- Not a Censor!
A response to an article in The Washington Post regarding
The Catcher in the Rye.
A clearinghouse for resources on censorship.
The Freedom Forum provides a bibliography of books, periodicals
and on-line resources.
Nat. The Day They Came to Arrest the Book. 1982, reissue
1999. First Amendment expert Hentoff focuses on the controversy
of using The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a high school
language arts/history class. The book was adapted for a CBS "After
School Special" of the same name.
Nancy. The Year They Burned the Books. 1999.
An editorial supporting her school's new policy and personal gender-identity
questions give newspaper editor Jamie Crawford a senior year to
Coalition Against Censorship. Public Education, Democracy,
Free Speech: The Ideas That Define And Unite Us. 2000.
The National Education Association and NCAC collaborated to produce
this booklet to stress the link between public education and the
constitutional right to free speech and inquiry.
Ellen Henson. Caught Off Guard: Teachers Rethinking Censorship
and Controversy. Prentice Hall. 1999.
In addition to censorship issues in student publications, this
work covers book banning.
States History, Standard 8: Understands the institutions and practices
of government created during the Revolution and how these elements
were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the
American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the
Bill of Rights.
Standard 3: Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of
law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of
individual rights and the common good.
Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the
States History, Standard 8, Grades 9-12: Understands the Bill of
Rights and various challenges to it (e.g., arguments by Federalists
and Anti-Federalists over the need for a Bill of Rights, the Alien
and Sedition Acts, recent court cases involving the Bill of Rights).
Standard 3, Grades 6-8: Understands the possible consequences of
the absence of a rule of law (e.g., anarchy, arbitrary and capricious
rule, absence of predictability, disregard for established and fair
procedures); Grades 9-12: Knows alternative ideas about the purposes
and functions of law (e.g., regulating relationships among people
and between people and their government; providing order, predictability,
security, and established procedures for the management of conflict;
regulating social and economic relationships in civil society).
Arts, Standard 1: Grades 6-8: Uses content, style, and structure
(e.g., formal or informal language, genre, organization) appropriate
for specific audiences (e.g., public, private) and purposes (e.g.,
to entertain, to influence, to inform); Grades 9-12: Uses strategies
to adapt writing for different purposes (e.g., to explain, inform,
analyze, entertain, reflect, persuade); Grades 9-12: Writes persuasive
compositions that address problems/solutions or causes/effects (e.g.,
articulates a position through a thesis statement; anticipates and
addresses counter arguments; backs up assertions using specific
rhetorical devices [appeals to logic, appeals to emotion, uses personal
anecdotes]; develops arguments using a variety of methods such as
examples and details, commonly accepted beliefs, expert opinion,
cause-and-effect reasoning, comparison-contrast reasoning).
English: While reading
Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit
451 or observing Banned Books Week, include this unit of
While studying the Holocaust, include the Nazi
censorship of art and burning
of books. Use this lesson to connect to the idea of the inherent
threat of government censorship to freedom.
production: As students are developing their technological skills
to produce a radio or television program, give them this assignment
so they have content for their programming.