In a Jan. 20 press release by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Michigan opposes Plymouth-Canton Community School District's ban of two novels - Beloved by Toni Morrison and Waterland by Graham Smith - citing the banning of the books violates students' constitutional rights.
Teachers were instructed not to teach the texts one month ago following complaints from students' parents that Beloved's "...exploration of sex, ghosts and infanticide was inappropriate for students," as was Waterland's sexual references. Prior to the complaint, both texts were a staple of the Advanced Placement English curriculum. Though many parents and students disagree with the ban, the district is awaiting third-party reviews of the novels before deciding whether the ban will remain in effect.
The ACLU of Michigan Metro Detroit Branch president, Loren Khogali, maintains, "Shutting down ideas in the classroom not only raises constitutional concerns, but goes against the very essence of our educational system. This incident is a stark reminder of the threats still facing educational freedom."
As a high school English teacher, I have to agree.
These texts are part of the Advanced Placement curriculum, which by its very nature is intended to explore advanced content, both academically and topically. AP courses are optional, and students whose parents are uncomfortable with the material may enroll in alternative courses.
Furthermore, when English departments select the texts they will teach in their courses, they consider carefully whether a text's merit outweighs its questionable nature. Literature is largely a reflection of the human experience, and exploring a text that's deepest issues transcend time and place affords students inestimable opportunities for critical thinking and connection-making.
Despite the best intentions of teachers and school districts charged with selecting quality texts, the calls for book banning are not uncommon. According to the American Library Association, the past decade saw 4,660 book challenges, 1,720 of these in classrooms alone. Of the most common reasons for challenging a book, "sexually explicit material" and "offensive language" rank among the top complaints.
I have only encountered a handful of parental objections to texts I teach in my classroom, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Each time I do, I can't help but feel as though these students are missing out on invaluable learning experiences, from an exploration of the harmful nature of discrimination to a discussion of the role of feminism in society.
As Justice William O. Douglas of the United States Supreme Court said in 1951, when a student's right to read is infringed upon, "a deadening dogma takes the place of free inquiry. Instruction tends to become sterile; pursuit of knowledge is discouraged; discussion often leaves off where it should begin." (National Council of Teachers of English)
I only hope schools across the country, including Plymouth-Canton Community School District, consider the impact such censorship has on students' quality of education.
Laura Sauer is a high school English teacher in Michigan with eight years teaching experience. She holds a BA in English and is pursuing her MA in Curriculum Development and Instruction.