Collection of banned books
Mr. Matthew McCann, English Teacher

Banned Books in the Classroom

Eagle Hill students read and lead discussions on challenged or banned books.

March is celebrated by many as National Reading Month. As an English teacher, I celebrate that every day! However, in the spirit of the month, I’d like to briefly discuss what’s been going on in the various sections of Banned Books that I’ve been teaching this year. First, a brief overview of the class:

In Banned Books, students read works of literature that have been banned or challenged at some point and in someplace in the world. These bans or challenges are then, typically, undone by the ALA (American Library Association) or other similar groups. Books are often banned or challenged in schools because they contain content or ideas which people disagree with, fear, or feel uncomfortable reading and talking about. These are exactly the novels we read and analyze in Banned Books.

In Banned Books, students read works of literature that have been banned or challenged at some point and in someplace in the world.

In my sections of this class, students are given a vast amount of control of the reading and analytical processes that occur. To start a new book, students are charged with selecting a book to be read. Each student researches a title they’re interested in (the only criteria is that the book has been banned or challenged somewhere), and then they formulate an argument to support our reading of that title. Each student presents their case, and then the class votes to narrow down and then finally select a single title. This way, my students are the captains of their own literary expeditions.

Below is a selection of banned books students researched for class reading and discussion.

•    The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
•    The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald 
•    The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
•    1984, George Orwell
•    The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
•    Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

During the reading of a text, the students continue to pursue their interests and ideas about the work. Each student becomes a member of a classroom blog website, and they are treated as contributors to the site. Each student takes the role of discussion leader at least once per book; discussion leaders are responsible for leading an exploration of the most recent chapter read by the class. As a discussion leader, a student is charged with composing and then posting a question to their class blog. The contents of the question are determined by the student, and the only requirement on my end is that it invokes different opinions rather than having a specific answer within the text. The rest of the class responds to the blog question overnight, and then the following day the discussion leader guides the class through a debate based on the various responses given by each student.

By implementing this approach, I give students the power to choose. They can uncover, dissect, and consider many different perspectives, opinions, and ideas about the themes or controversies within a text. These discussions, which are entirely student-powered, often lead to very exciting and interesting conversations. It puts students in a position to truly consider views beyond their own. More than once, I have witnessed students begin to critically think about a real-world issue that they’ve gained perspective on after these dialogues occur. After all, what are books for, if not for helping us understand each other and the world around us?

Matthew McCann
Matthew McCann earned his BS in English Studies, with a concentration in secondary education, from Fitchburg State University. He also became a member of the English Honor Society while attending FSU. Matthew graduated from his high school and earned the English Department Award in his graduating class, and he has nourished a passion for the English language ever since. He is currently pursuing his master’s of fine arts from the University of Massachusetts, Boston in the Critical and Creative Thinking program (CrCtrTh).

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Learning Diversity is a blog hosted by Eagle Hill School where educators, students, and other members of the LD community regularly contribute posts and critical essays about learning and living in spaces that privilege the inevitability of human diversity.

The contributors of Learning Diversity come together to engage our readers from a variety of disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, biological sciences and mathematics, athletics, and residential life. Embracing learning diversity means understanding and respecting our students as whole persons.


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