EN090: Banned Books
What They Didn't Want You to Read in High School

English 090: Foundation Seminar
"Banned Books: What They Didn't Want You to Read in High School"
Professor Glynis Carr
Fall Semester 1996

Texts and Materials: (available at campus bookstore):

Henry Reichman. Censorship and Selection.
Ken Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Richard Wright. Black Boy.
Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye.
Jean Auel. Clan of the Cave Bear.
Boston Women's Health Collective. The New Our Bodies, Ourselves.
Nancy Garden. Annie on My Mind.
Leslea Newman. Heather Has Two Mommies.
Diane Hacker. A Pocket Style Manual.
Xeroxed materials (available in class).

OPTIONAL TEXTBOOK: Lee Burress. Battle of the Books.

Course Description and Learning Objectives:

Censorship in the public schools is a complex issue, involving disputes about what constitutes wholesome social values and about what relationships should exist between church, state, educators, parents, and minor children. The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom reports that during the 1992-93 school year, there were 395 reported attempts to ban books, lessons or educational approaches from classrooms, school libraries, or districts in 44 states. The objective of this course is to investigate the issue of censorship from multiple perspectives. In the process, we shall clarify our own values and thoughts about the role of education in shaping them, the role of religion in the schools and separation of church and state, the freedom of the press, and what limits there ought to be, if any, on children's freedom to read and who should be authorized to set them.

We will begin the course by studying two textbooks which survey the issue of censorship in the public schools. After this overview, we will examine the issue of multiculturalism in greater depth because, beginning in the late 1960s, multiculturalists challenged school curricula, charging censorship by exclusion and advocating greater representation of material relevant to women and racial and sexual minorities. Today, monoculturalists launch a counter-challenge: for example, nearly one third of book challenges involve writings by "minority" writers, while the presence or absence of gay and lesbian materials on high school reading lists is hotly contested. Clearly, the issues of plurality in American society and diversity in the public schools have a significant influence on challenges to public school curricula and library holdings.

During the rest of the course, we will read a selection of books and other materials that are now frequently challenged or have successfully been banned in certain schools. These materials have all been judged to be offensive by various constituencies. Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has been challenged by the left as racist and sexist and by the right as obscene and violent. Wright's Black Boy and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye have been challenged as racially hateful toward whites, irreligious, obscene, and/or graphically violent. Creationists object to The Clan of the Cave Bear for its assumption of evolution, while Newman's short story for young children, Heather Has Two Mommies, and Garden's Annie on My Mind have frequently been the center of controversies about the inclusion of materials about homosexuality in school libraries. Finally, we will study The New Our Bodies, Ourselves to anchor our discussion of sex education.

Class Format:

The format of the course consists of informal lecture, discussion, and small group work. This course is a seminar, which means that students are expected to be active participants in the shaping of the knowledge produced by the class (rather than passive vessels to be filled with knowledge predetermined by the professor). I won't therefore be teaching you "the truth" about censorship; I WILL be providing the class with a set of readings that both provides facts and represents multiple viewpoints, as well as a classroom structure in which we can argue freely and come to our own conclusions. Course assignments will foster both independent and collaborative learning. Our primary objective is to learn how to study social problems in a dynamic, interdisciplinary, and experiential manner. We will encourage creativity and imagination, and set no high priority on conformity of thinking or reaching consensus. The lecture/discussion/small group format will encourage personal reflectiveness and moral discernment, and develop students' skills in critical analysis and interpretation.

This is a W-1 course, which means that students are expected to write frequently and professors are expected to provide instruction on all phases of the writing process, from brainstorming to proofreading. We will learn several cooperative techniques of peer feedback and editing, but otherwise, writing instruction will be responsive to students' individual needs. Individual written work consists of weekly journals, reports on your small group experience, and a final paper, written independently, at the end of the term.

Students will also receive an orientation to the Bertrand Library and become proficient at using Netscape on MAC computers. Finally, I'd like to make a note about the readings for the course: we will not discuss every reading assignment in class, nor will lectures recapitulate the readings. In other words, reading and class attendance do not substitute for one another. Students are expected to come to class having read the assigned material and prepared to think critically during lectures and participate fully and actively in discussions.

Assignments and Evaluation:

Attendance and participation count toward the final grade.

Each Monday (with exceptions noted on the syllabus), students will turn in short journals. The purpose of the journal assignment is to encourage students to reflect about the course materials, prepare for class discussion, and work through problems related to the course in an informal and unstructured way. Some journal entries will be student initiated; some will be initiated by me as I ask you to answer specific questions or brainstorm on particular problems and issues. Journals should demonstrate to me that you have done the reading scheduled for discussion. Otherwise, journals are informal (though still thoughtful) first person accounts of your reactions to and ideas about what we are studying. You can also raise questions for me or the class as a whole, reflect on lectures and discussions, and "process" your experiences working in the small groups. Journals may be any length, but typically students write 1-3 typewritten pages. Use the MAC if at all possible! I will check the journals each week, using them to structure our discussions. Twice each semester, students will resubmit journals, revised and expanded if desired, for a letter grade.

Throughout the semester, students will work in small groups to design a unit of a high school curriculum and defend it from challenges or alter it in response to challenges launched by the rest of the class. The class will be divided into three groups. Your work group will first design part of a course, and then respond to the curricular units designed by each of the other two groups, once from the perspective of the political "left" and once from the perspective of the political "right" (these are, admittedly, clumsy terms). The purposes of this assignment include learning to work collaboratively, of course, but more importantly, students will gain a certain visceral, or practical, experience not available through reading alone. By designing a curriculum and responding to the curricula of other groups, you will not only clarify your own positions on tough issues of social value and public policy, you will learn to understand how others think by constructing arguments with which you don't agree. A more detailed, separate handout on this assignment will be given during the first week of the course.

In lieu of a final exam, students will write a 5-7 pp. term paper that engages some aspect of the problem of censorship in the public schools. Students will choose their own topics. Papers may be theoretical: for example, you may want to write a position paper on a well-defined aspect of multiculturalism, the curriculum, the freedom of speech, the separation of church and state, or the values you think public education should promote. Or, you may want to write a literary critical essay in which you analyze a "banned book" for its literary and social value (or lack thereof). Papers should also represent research in the library: at least three secondary sources should be cited in your paper and in the "List of Works Cited" (bibliography) at the end.

Schedule of Assignments:

Week 1: Introduction to the course
In-class video screening: "Battle Over the Books: Censorship in American Schools"

Week 2: Overview of Censorship Issues
Read: Reichman, Ch. 1-3
OPTIONAL READING: Burress, Ch. 1-4
Introduction to Library Resources

Week 3: What is Multiculturalism?
Read: Walter Ong, "Introduction: On Saying We and Us to Literature"; Elaine Showalter, "Women and the Literary Curriculum"; Raymond H. Giles, Jr., "Introduction" to Black Studies Programs in Public Schools; Elaine Kim, "Images of Asians in Anglo-American Literature"; Gregory Morris, "Multicultural Literacy and Literature: The Perspective of School Policy"

Week 4: The Case Against Multiculturalism
Read: National Association of Scholars, "Is the Curriculum Biased?"; Schlafly Report, "Citizens Bill of Rights About Schools and Libraries"; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., from The Disuniting of America"; "Whose America?" (Time 1991); E.D. Hirsch, Jr., "Literacy and Cultural Literacy" and "American Diversity and Public Discourse" from Cultural Literacy; Dinesh D'Souza, from Illiberal Education.

Week 5 M 9-23 Lecture: What is Literary Value? Or, the many ways that Books Can Delight and Offend.
Read: Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Week 6: The Perils and Promises of Reading Black Literature
Read: Wright, Black Boy

Week 7
M Presentation of Curriculum: Group #1
W Presentation of Curriculum: Group #2
F Presentation of Curriculum: Group #3

Week 8:
Read: Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Week 9: Science, Religion, and the Schools: Can Education be Value-Free?
Read: Auel, Clan of the Cave Bear; Burress, Ch. 7 on secular humanism


To supplement Burress's chapter on "Secular Humanism," consult the following sources.
Definitions of "secular humanism"
  • The Humanist Manifesto I
  • The Humanist Manifesto II Keep in mind, as Burress does, that teachers in the public schools hold a variety of religious beliefs. Not all would define themselves as a "humanist" in these terms. Others, however, would. Constituencies of the religious right assert that the public schools in general -- regardless of the beliefs of individual teachers -- promote secular humanism as defined in these documents. They understand "secular humanism" not only as a religion itself, but one that dominates the schools and consequently inhibits the practice of Christianity.
  • What is Secular Humanism? This page presents a Christian argument for understanding secular humanism as a religion. Cites legal cases (having to do with conscientious objection to war) in support of their view.
  • Is the religion of Secular Humanism being taught in public school classrooms? Another page from the website above, this page presents a Christian argument that the schools do, indeed, promote the religion of secular humanism.
  • Secular Humanism Rebuttal of Christian arguments by Richard Foltin, of the American Jewish Committee. One premise of his argument is that the schools can and should maintain a neutral position vis a vis religion. Such neutrality ought not be understood as a religion itself.

    Creationist Links
  • The Talk Origins Archive Pro-creationism/anti-evolution links to over a dozen pages.

    Evolution Theory Links
  • The Talk Origins Archive Evolution science links.

  • Week 12: Should sex ed be taught in public schools? If so, how?
    Read: Our Bodies, Ourselves; "Censorship--Real and Phony" from The Phyllis Schlafly Report; Jill Blair, "Condoms and Kids."

    Week 11: Continue discussion of sex ed
    Read: Heather Has Two Mommies

    Week 12
    This week we'll hold "community meetings" at which the work groups will respond to each other's curricula.

    Week 13
    Discuss: How should educators respond to challenges?
    The Debate About Homosexuality, cont'd
    Read: Garden, Annie on My Mind; Michael Ford, "Gay Books for Young Readers"; N'Tanya Lee, et al., "Whose Kids? Our Kids!"

    Week 14
    Peer responding session -- Work on Final Papers

    Week 15
    More work on papers: Polishing college papers; plagiarism vs. proper citation; preparing the "List of Works Cited"
    Summary Discussion of course

    Week 16: Course Evaluations and Wrap-Up

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