#thatbookthat Challenges Students: Banned Books Week
By Kelby Zenor, Rubicon International
When choosing a book to read with students, sometimes we seek out to challenge students to think outside their realm of normalcy. We want to let them know they aren’t alone in the world, that there are others out there who have similar, imperfect stories.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a great example of a story that engages readers by connecting to the students’ own experiences and giving a reader the glimpse into another life. I first encountered this book on a road trip with my middle school nephew and we listened to the story as we drove through Montana. As he was a reluctant reader, I sought out a book that would hopefully grab his attention, and this was the book! We were able to have deep conversations about the experiences of the main character and make connections to my nephew’s own experiences growing up.
As we celebrate Banned Books week (September 25-Oct 1), we wanted to check in with some of the teachers we know and see how they teach this novel. Check out a few of their reflections on teaching banned books and engaging students!
#thatbookthat pushes us outside our comfort zone
Growing up, my mother, who luckily for me also happened to be a teacher, told me, “If a book is banned, read it! Always think for yourself.” And though this idea got me in trouble in the 8th grade with a certain nun who was upset that I brought The DaVinci Code to read during my free time, it is one that has stayed with me. As a teacher, I know now what my mother knew then: that banning a book is often done out of misunderstanding, or, perhaps even more pervasively, done out of fear.
I teach young adults, and when we are told to shield a book from them because of language or “uncomfortable content,” we are shielding them from experiencing something outside their comfort zone and growing up. We are shielding them from challenging themselves as human beings and as critical thinkers. Reading allows students to broaden their horizons with ideas and insights from others. Reading allows them to challenge ideas and to incorporate new ideas into their minds. It gives them new lenses through which to view the world around them. But this cannot happen when ideas are limited. Finally, when my students leave the confines of my classroom, the world awaits them—one that is not “safe,” one that does not shield. When we read banned books, we recognize and prepare for this reality.
#thatbookthat acknowledges the controversy
I’ve always been drawn to banned/censored literature because, well, they’re always the best books. My students are easily drawn into stories that have a bit of controversy behind them. I find that giving them context to the history of banned/challenged material helps to spark more of their interest and brings up great questions/discussions in class. It sets the stage for the novel and we can go back to those questions as a class throughout the unit.
The students find this unit challenging because it asks them to wrestle with hard questions about censorship and their role and responsibility as a reader. Where do you draw the line with censorship? Should a book ever be challenged or banned? Where is your own blind spot? It encourages students to think outside the box and take on an adult role in the classroom and they tend to take on that role.
#thatbookthat makes a connection
I didn’t seek to teach the ATDOAPTI because it’s a banned book. I was motivated to teach it because despite the mature content some may argue the novel contains, it is an engaging story with an inspiring message that is relevant to my students.
My students are all ELL students that have been in this country for 4 or less years. To many of them the transition to a new culture, including learning the language, can be very difficult. The ATDOAPTI challenged them because I think Junior’s story allowed them to realize that they can have multiple identities and labels. Additionally, at its core, the novel’s message is that despite difficult circumstances, you can chase your dreams…which is what many of my students are doing. It also taught them about a group of people (Native Americans) that are often forgotten.
#thatbookthat teaches about identity
I used TATDPTI to teach different aspects of American identity in my U.S history class. It was in my American Identity unit. We compared how American Indians contributed to the American identity when America was first formed and then to how American Indian communities are perceived today. [This is where Alexie came in.]
How are you celebrating Banned Books Week? Are you teaching any banned books in your Curriculum? Have a great censorship unit in Atlas you’d like to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!