Being Proactive About Censorship and Intellectual Freedom


Before I share the professional development for November, I want to write to you about some banned book information that I have been reading. For the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking about censorship and book challenges because I had the pleasure of doing a presentation in San Antonio, Texas. The presentation made me think about my own experiences with book challenges and censorship.  I think I was fortunate when I was growing up. My parents were strong disciplinarians. Yet, they always trusted me to monitor my own reading materials.

I read “The Color Purple,” during summer break when I was eleven. In fact, I read several books that have been banned under the watchful eyes of my parents and my teachers. Here is an example. My family moved to Florida while I was in high school. The welcome gift that I received that summer was a hefty reading list that came complete with controversy.

The reading list was challenged because some parents in the community did not want their children to read Gordon Parks’ book, “The Learning Tree.” I chose the book just because parents were complaining. My parents bought it for me. I am thankful for the forgiving environment that helped me to develop into an adult who thinks critically. Reading various viewpoints taught me to evaluate what is right and wrong. Sometimes there are dark and complex gray areas to consider.

My husband and I have given our children the same courtesy that was afforded to me. Of course, I am what some people refer to as a “helicopter parent.” I think it is a parent’s duty to ask questions like, “What is this book about?” It is my way of maintaining an open relationship that encourages indiscriminating dialogue related to problematic topics.

I also believe in teachable moments. When I see my children are interested in a book that is banned, we talk about why it is banned. Believe me. Some of the conversations are quite interesting. Occasionally, it seems that children have more understanding than adults. Perhaps it is their fleeting innocence that helps them to be objective. Throughout the years, I have learned a lot from listening to my children and the students whom I have worked with.

There are times that I wish adults could learn from the behaviors of children. For example, I watched a principal get angry because of the cover of one of Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” books. The principal decided that Captain Underpants should not be sold in the book fair because she found the drawing on the cover offensive. The intense reaction was interesting because Captain Underpants was the fair’s bestseller.

Parents and students happily browsed the fair’s offerings without issuing any complaints regarding the book. Because of this, I thought nothing of the cover. I understood that some people did not like the brand of humor in the Captain Underpants series. Nonetheless, I was excited because students were interested in reading. I also felt that parents should be able to monitor their children’s recreational reading decisions on family night at the book fair. Yet, the principal angrily demanded that the book be removed.

While administrators may abruptly decide to remove books from shelves, there are other forms of censorship practiced for various reasons (Bucher & Hinton, 2014). Some are subtler than others. Examples include:

  • restricting access to materials
  • crossing out content or tearing pages from books
  • hiding books in the collection
  • labeling books with controversial topics
  • avoiding certain books for reading lists
  • refusing to collect books that portray certain lifestyles, discuss sensitive topics, or have characters reflecting a culture or ethnicity

I decided to read the School Library Journal (2016) survey on controversial books in preparation for my presentation. If you have not had the opportunity to read it, I recommend it to you. According to the results, most of the participants indicated that they purposely did not select books on controversial topics. The participants also noted that they were more concerned about selecting controversial books at the time of the survey than they were in the past. This is not surprising, given that school librarians’ jobs can be questioned when a book is challenged. Such was the case when a senator in Virginia suggested that school librarians should be fired for recommending controversial books (Griset, 2016).

If you ever doubt your choice to support intellectual freedom because of actions like the senator’s, I think that you should read another study that I found.  There has always been a question on how banned books impact the behaviors of youth. The study that I read analyzed the relationship between behavior problems, mental health, civic behaviors, and grade point averages (Ferguson, 2014).

The participants of the study included 282 teens from a town in South Texas. Overall, the findings signified that reading banned books facilitate thinking skills in teens. Moreover, there was a positive relationship between reading banned books and the civic mindedness of the participants. The books also did not negatively impact the behaviors of the participants. Conversely, the researcher noted that there was a cluster of participants with mental health issues. For those participants, there was a positive correlation between mental health and reading banned books. Although the study used a small sample, the researcher concluded that banned books are a good way to facilitate discussions about ethical issues between children and their parents.

There definitely should be more studies that explore censorship and the impact of banned books. In the meantime, there are ways to encourage intellectual freedom in schools. A couple of suggestions from Bucher and Hinton (2014) include:

  • celebrating Banned Books Week
  • using books based on controversial topics to facilitate debates with students
  • conducting workshops for parents and teachers about intellectual freedom
  • communicating a rationale for all materials that are selected
  • gathering input from the school community while choosing materials

10-censorship-and-book-challenge-questionsPerhaps the most important piece of advice that I can share is that you should be proactive. Ask yourself the 10 questions in the graphic that I have provided. In addition, make sure that you have a selection policy that includes procedures for book challenges. Your policy should be endorsed by your school board. Are you prepared?

If you do not have a policy, the American Library Association has a workbook that you can follow to create a policy. Should you have a challenge, you won’t regret having a procedure to follow. Finally, read the censorship information from the Freedom to Read Foundation and the American Library Association.

Please see the professional development below.

November 2016 Professional Development

Title:  Using Current Events to Reach All Learners

  • Organization:
  • Date: Tuesday, November 01, 2016 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EDT
  • Description: Long gone are the days of the one-room schoolhouse. Most classes consist of students who are about the same age. And yet, today’s students come to school with a wide variety of interests, experiences, and abilities. When it comes to teaching and learning, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Using high-interest news topics as a starting point, it is possible to engage all students in rigorous learning that builds on their individual strengths. In this live webcast, Suzanne Zimbler and Melanie Kletter will discuss strategies and activities for engaging different types of learners in the analysis of informational text. Leveled texts and graphic organizers intended for students in grades 3–8 will be provided.
  • Link:

Title:  Great Ideas for Tech Infused Lessons

  • Organization: TeachersFirst
  • Date: Tuesday, November 01, 2016 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm CDT
  • Description: Learn about the resources provided by TeachersFirst to make technology integration easy. Explore the teacher-friendly features of TeachersFirst to help you save time in developing technology infused lessons. Participants will learn new strategies to incorporate the tools of the web successfully into any classroom. As a result of this session and through individual follow-up, teachers will:
    • Locate resources within TeachersFirst to provide real-world learning experiences for their students.
    • Locate and evaluate effective, web-based tools and resources in support of teaching and learning, both for themselves and for their students.
    • Evaluate TeachersFirst membership features applicable to their individual technology expertise and teaching situation.
    • Find solutions to individual questions or practical problems of their teaching situation by exploring TeachersFirst and/or asking live questions during the session.
  • Link:

Title:  Kids Deserve It!

  • Organization:
  • Date: Wednesday, November 02, 2016 @ 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm EDT
  • Description: Come learn from Texas principal and author, Todd Nesloney, as he shares ideas on ways to build a positive school and classroom culture, challenge conventional thinking, eliminate excuses, and connect with all stakeholders in a school. Todd brings the experience of starting a school over from scratch and working with a population that is 85% minority and almost 90% free-and-reduced lunch. Far too often the only limitation that is placed on our students, classrooms, or schools are the limitations that are put on by adults – by us! When we take the time to choose to do what’s best for kids and not what’s easiest for adults we can truly provide experiences that are unlike any other.
  • Link:

Title:  Coding with Kids

  • Organization: TeachersFirst
  • Date: Tuesday, November 08, 2016 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm CST
  • Description: Join us to learn about computational thinking skills and how you can develop them in your classroom. Discover the world of coding with your students. Begin by learning how to introduce students to the world of coding and computer programming. Learn about computational thinking skills and how it develops logical thinking. Continue with a hands on activity to activate a concrete understanding of programming. Explore three different sites that use visual coding to develop programming skills. By the end of this session, you will be well on your way to begin the journey in learning and teaching computer programming.
  •  Link:

Title:  Tabletop Games and 21st Century Skill Development

  • Organization: Infopeople
  • Date: Wednesday, November 09, 2016 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EST
  • Description: Have you noticed many of your library users playing games? Have you ever wondered if games can be in your library for more than recreation? In today’s culture, games are ubiquitous. Although commercial games are recreational, they also provide opportunities for informal learning. In fact, to play games players must use at least one 21st Century Skill, and often players use multiple skills. Join webinar presenter Lauren Hays as she highlights how you can use games in your library to foster skills such as creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration, vital to every library user’s needs.
    • At the end of this one-hour webinar, participants will learn how to:
    • Identify games that help players use and develop 21st Century Skills
    • Implement a game facilitation strategy at their library
    • Help patrons reflect on the experience of gameplay
  • Link:

Title:  The Teacher 50: Critical Questions for Inspiring Classroom Excellence

  • Organization: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
  • Date: Thursday, November 10, 2016 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EST
  • Description: Based on Principal Kafele’s new ASCD book, “The Teacher 50: Critical Questions for Inspiring Classroom Excellence”, this empowering, introspective webinar takes teachers on a reflective journey designed to challenge them to think deeply about their current practices relative to how they inspire classroom excellence. Principal Kafele’s self-reflective questions and penetrating insights reveal how teachers can:
    • Inspire students of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds to strive for academic excellence;
    • Develop strong relationships with students, their parents, and the greater community;
    • Address the challenges and promises presented by millennial learners; and
    • Boost motivation and excitement about teaching despite entrenched obstacles and daily frustrations.
  • Link:

Title:  Introduction to Coding on Mobile Devices: Anyone Can Do It!

  • Organization: Simple K12
  • Date: Saturday, November 12, 2016 @ 2:00 pm – 2:30 pm EST
  • Description: Every day, our world becomes more and more technology driven and yet thousands of lucrative jobs within the technology industry go unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers. As teachers, we have the responsibility of exposing our students to the types of skills that will enable them to be successful in the future. Coding, which encompasses computer programming, app development, and more is one of those particular skills. Join Lauren Boucher as she introduces the concept and skill of coding. She will explain the value of coding, cover the basics of how to code, and provide several mobile and web applications that allow students to code their own games and stories. Don’t be intimidated – it’s easier than you think!
  • Link:

Title:  Increase Classroom Mobility, Don’t Be Chained to Your Desktop Computer

  • Organization: Simple K12
  • Date: Saturday, November 12, 2016 @ 3:00 pm – 3:30 pm EST
  • Description: As tablets become more and more commonplace, the need to use a desktop computer is diminishing just as fast as your need to be flexible and mobile is increasing. But what about those things that still keep you tethered, the things that still require a full computer? Like interactive whiteboards… Or maybe you would just like to be able to quickly access your computer from anywhere in your classroom – or even from another classroom! In the age of mobile computing, why should you be tethered to your computer or any specific location? Join Chris Casal as he explains how you can use various apps that allow you remote access to your systems anywhere on your network. You will discover how to access notes or lesson plans, change the screen on your IWB, and more – all while walking around your classroom or building.
  • Link:

Title:  3 Cool Tools: Using Images in Classroom

  • Organization: OK2Ask
  • Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2016 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm CST
  • Description:  Explore three online tools for working with images. Discover the differences between the three tools. Discuss and learn ways to use images in the classroom. Share ideas for different ways that images could be used in the classroom.  Create a project exemplar for use in your classroom. As a result of this session and through individual follow-up, teachers will:
    • Learn about and compare 3 different tools for working with images
    • Evaluate the uses for working with these tools in the classroom
    • Share ideas for using tools with other participants
    • Start a project using one of the given tools
  • Link:


American Library Association. (2016). Top ten frequently challenged books lists of the 21st century. Retrieved from

Ben_Kerckx. Girl reading. Retrieved from

Bucher, K. T., & Hinton, K. V. (2014). Young adult literature: Exploration, evaluation, and appreciation. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Griset, R. (2016). Sen. Amanda Chase: Label books with explicit language. Retrieved from


Author: Daniella Smith

Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently the Hazel Harvey Peace Professor in Children’s Library Services at the University of North Texas.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Collection Development, Professional Development

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