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Gifted Child Today Magazine
Spring, 2002

The challenge of "challenged books".

Author/s: Robert W. Seney

The joy of reading offers students the opportunity to explore this wonderful world through books. This seems to be especially true for gifted students. Many, if not most, gifted students are avid readers (Halsted, 1993). In fact, reading often becomes their coping skill of choice. They read to handle the lack of challenge and the boredom of classrooms that are not meeting their learning needs. The novel behind the textbook is a common scenario. Several Studies have reported that gifted students read three or four times as many books as average children (Whitehead, 1984). In addition, gifted students read a greater variety of books and are more adventurous in exploring different types of literature (Hawkins). These students read to satisfy their own curiosity and to build their own knowledge bases at a depth that is way beyond what is covered in the classroom. They also read just for the joy of reading with reading frequently being their activity of choice. So, what happens when quality literature has been unavailable by special interest groups or school boards? The result is that another limit has been placed on gifted students. These students read with more sophistication and understanding than their same-age peers. They often need a book for their own research or to meet their own social and emotional needs. What happens if that book has been taken off the shelf?

The issue of challenged books and censorship is addressed with some trepidation, but for the sake of gifted readers, this anti-intellectual practice that gifted students must be addressed. First, the caveats: This article addresses the issue gifted students and their available reading selections. Second, the concept of "developmentally appropriate reading" and how that should guide teachers and parents in making appropriate choices of reading materials for students is acknowledged and accepted. However, it is important to realize that "developmentally appropriate" must be redefined for gifted readers. Third, parents should have the right to be involved in the selection of literature for their children. Parents should challenge books only after they understand the learning objectives or purpose for the selection of the piece of literature and after they have read the novel itself. This issue will be addressed later.

The first task is to understand the nature of censorship. Even though this article addresses "challenges," in fact the issue is censorship. Freud defined censorship as "the psychological force that represses ideas, impulses, and feelings and prevents them from entering consciousness in their original form" (as cited in Naylor, 1986, p. 616). In that sense, everyone is a censor; but the censors who make the headlines are those who are more concerned with political action. They want to suppress ideas that are personally repellent to them and to promulgate their own ideology to the exclusion of other ideologies. Usually the reason cited for this suppression and exclusion is for "the protection of children;" however, this type of statement is intended to appeal to the emotions. Who doesn't want to protect children? But, of course, protection is not really the issue, rather suppression and exclusion are. The position of this writer is, that, in order for parents and teachers to nurture their gifted children "in the market place of ideas," all ideas must be available--including those concerning abuse, sexuality, and violence.

   Broderick (1986) suggested,

   Censorship of books and other learning resource materials sends a mixed
   message to students. On the one hand, we say, read; on the other, we say
   but don't read this, that, or the other title. A major reason we want
   children to become dedicated readers is so they will develop judgment, the
   ability to discern the good from the bad, the superior from the shoddy."
   (p. 614)

It is well known how quickly gifted students pick up on mixed messages. Silverman (1993) beautifully illustrated this characteristic in her discussion of perceptiveness. She defines this concept as "the insight, the intuition, and the ability to read several layers of feeling simultaneously and the ability to quickly get to the core of an issue" (p. 41). With this characteristic in the gifted students' repertoire, it is easily seen how it is possible to quickly lose their confidence by sending mixed messages that are inherent in censorship issues.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in its position statement, "Students' Right to Read" (http:// www.ncte.org/censorship/right2read. shtml) makes two observations about censorship. First, any work is potentially open to attack by someone, somewhere, sometime for some reason. For example, since one parent in a New Jersey school district complained that a dictionary used sexually explicit terms in its definitions, it was removed. The second observation is that censorship is often arbitrary and irrational. One example here is that a classic pre-Christian Greek text was challenged because it was "un-Christian."

In 1978, the NCTE identified several forms of censorship in a brochure (see Table 1). Because censorship takes many forms, teachers and parents must be diligent to make sure that appropriate literature and information are available for gifted learners. When specific works are not available, demand to see the rationalization for the censorship.

Obviously, conflict, especially between teachers and parents, should be avoided, therefore it is important to have in place a process that will deal with potential problems. Table 2 offers a classroom guide that may help to avoid possible challenges surrounding literature selected for study. This guide was developed by the author using his classroom experience and guidelines from the NCTE. (1)

One recommended strategy is for parents and children to read the questioned book together and then to discuss it. This gives parents an opportunity to state objections to the book, content, or issue from the point of view of their own values and, at the same time, not deny the child the opportunity to read the questioned novel. In this way, parents can build a strong reading bond with their children, and they have the opportunity to teach their children a sense of the moral values that they hold. To keep parents informed, teachers may want to address concerns about particular books in parent meetings and in their classrooms. If this is the case, the known objections and the reasons for these objections should be carefully listed. This also provides teachers with an opportunity to discuss the issue of selecting appropriate reading materials for students.

Teachers who take up the task of addressing challenged books and are willing to have students read sensitive books in their classrooms must be willing and prepared to discuss these books with students. This means that they may have to deal with some difficult issues and therefore must be personally comfortable in openly discussing topics that may be potentially sensitive or embarrassing. Teachers must also create the classroom environment where it is safe to have an open and frank discussion (Hunt & Seney, 2001).

Teachers must be prepared by doing their homework. Teachers should know the community and its values, and they should prepare for possible challenges to a book (Bushman & Parks-Haas, 2001). The written rationale is very important. Bushman and Parks-Haas suggested eight elements that should be included in a rationale (see Table 3). It is also important to note that the more choices students have in reading or not reading specific titles, the less potential there is for censorship or challenge (Bushman & Parks-Haas). The prepared teacher will have alternate assignments and titles in mind.

Teachers who follow these procedures will have few problems with parents about the choice of literature. It is very important to create the communication link between classrooms and parents as early in the year as possible. How should the occasional problem be addressed? Table 4 identifies steps that this author has used. Again, NCTE guidelines have been helpful in creating this process.

In the few cases, in which this author has had parents object to a particular book, the parent had not read the entire book. It is important to make it quite clear that both teachers and parents are wasting time in discussing the situation if the book has not been read. This is a good time to give to the parents the "Request for Reconsideration of Materials" form designed by the NCTE and available from the NCTE Web site. Ask the parents to complete the form after they have read the book and before the next conference. It has been the experience of this author that in nearly every case in which this process was followed, parents withdrew their objections and in one particular situation, the parent became a champion for a book that is often challenged.

Gifted middle school and high school students are often interested in the issue of censorship. This may be because they have been frustrated so often in their own pursuit of knowledge. They seem to identify readily with the lack of "fairness" that censorship often creates. What an opportunity this presents to both teachers and parents who are guiding gifted students in independent study. This interest also creates the opportunity for teachers and students to design a great unit of study on this issue, which can be based on young adult literature. Table 5 lists young adult novels that deal with the issue of censorship in various ways. Reading these novels and discussing them can easily be the basis of an interdisciplinary, differentiated curriculum unit.

It might be argued that challenged books and censorship are two different issues. In fact, the American Library Association on its Web site (http:// www.ala.org/bbooks/challeng.html) draws the difference between challenging and banning books, both forms of censorship. "A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point-of-view; rather they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access [emphasis added] of others."

Educators must be careful not to place any more restrictions upon gifted students. Since many successful gifted students basically direct their own learning, teachers and parents must not limit their access to information whether for research or for the joy of reading. They live with too many limits as it is. It is the duty of teachers and parents of gifted students to challenge any person or group that seeks to challenge or ban any book and "thereby restricting the access" of knowledge, enjoyment, and intellectual development.

Appendix (2)

All-Time Top 10 Favorites

Cooney, Caroline, What Child is This (Delacorte Press; ISBN 0-440-50057-5)

Cormier, Robert, Fade (Delacorte Press; ISBN 0-440-50057-5)

Jacques, Brian, Salamandastron * (Philomel Books; ISBN 0-399-21992-7)

Lowry, Lois, Gathering Blue (Houghton Mifflin: ISBN 0-6187-05581-9)

Patterson, Katherine, Bridge to Terabithia (Avon Books; ISBN 0-380-43281-1)

Paulsen, Gary, Dogsong (Bradbury Press; ISBN 0-02-770180-8)

Rylant, Cynthia, The Van Gogh Cafe (Harcourt Brace; ISBN 0-15-200843-8)

Sleator, William, Interstellar Pig (Peter Smith Pub; ISBN 0-844-66898-2)

Tolan, Stephanie, Welcome to the Ark (Morrow Junior Books; ISBN 0-688-13724-5)

Voight, Cynthia, A Solitary Blue (Ballentine Books; ISBN 0-449-70115-8)

Top 10 Reads in 2000

Anderson, Laurie, Speak [Printz Honor] (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; ISBN 0-374-37152-0)

Bell, William, Zack (Simon Schuster; ISBN 0-689-82248-0)

Curtis, Christopher, Bud, Not Buddy [Newbery Medal] (Delcourt Press; ISBN 0-385-32306-9)

Jacques, Brian, Lord Brocktree (Philomel Books; ISBN 0-399-23590-6)

Lowry, Lois, Gathering Blue (Houghton Mifflin; ISBN 0-6187-05581-9)

McKinley, Robin, Spindle's End (G. P. Putnam & Sons; ISBN 0-399-23466-7)

Myers, Walter Dean, Monster [Printz Medal] (HarperCollins Publishers; ISBN 0-06-028077-8)

Rowling, J. K., Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire * (Scholastic Press; ISBN 0-439-13959-7)

Voight, Cynthia, Elske (Atheneum Books; ISBN 0-689-82472-6)

Wittlinger, Ellen, Hard Love (Printz Honor) (Simon & Schuster; ISBN 0-689-82134-4)

Top 10 List of Best Reads 2001

Baur, Joan, Hope Was Here [Newbery Honor](G. P. Putnam & Sons; ISBN 0-399-23142-0)

DiCamillo, Kate, Because of Winn-Dixie [Newbery Honor] (Candlewick Press; ISBN 0-763-60776-2)

Herschler, Mildred, The Darkest Corner (Front Street Books; ISBN 1-886910-54-5)

Holt, Kimberly, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (Dell Yearling/Random House; ISBN 0-440-22904-9)

Jacques, Brian, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman (Philomel Books; ISBN 0-399-23601-5)

Jacques, Brian, Taggerund (Philomel Books; ISBN 0-399-23720-8)

Mikaelsen, Ben, Petey (Hyperion Books; ISBN 0-7868-0426-2)

Plum-Ucci, Carol, The Body of Christopher Creed [Printz Honor] (Harcourt, Inc.; ISBN 0-15-202388-7)

Tolan, Stephanie, Flight of the Raven (HarperCollins Books; ISBN 0-688-17419-1)

Trueman, Terry, Stuck in Neutral [Printz Honor] (Avon Tempest; ISBN 0-064-47213-2)

Note. * Whole series a special favorite.

Table 1

Forms of Censorship

1. Subtle censorship by "selection" of novels. In this form, only those
novels, which meet the censor's specific criteria, are selected for the
classroom or the "reading list."

2. Deliberate exclusion of certain books. Because the censor (teacher,
parent, or a public group) is aware of issues or content, identified
books are deliberately excluded from the library, the classroom, and
"approved" lists.

3. Alteration of books. Many students laugh about the books with
missing pages and the "blacked" out words and phrases that teachers or
librarians have mutilated, but to be fair, this is usually done because
of parental pressure. Students are not fooled and the irony is that
they often hear worse situations and language in the hall, in the
street, and on television.

4. Required book lists. Certainly, this might be the most sophisticated
use of censorship. It is generally believed that the professional in
the field certainly knows what is best for students to read and for the
most part this is true. However, other motives may be at work here. The
omissions and selections for the lists may have to be questioned from
time to time.

5. Suppression of materials as a result of community pressure. It is so
easy to pull a book off the shelf when a few people object. Again, the
question must be asked what are the motives and have all the
consequences of this form of censorship been truly considered?

6. Direct edict. This form of censorship is probably the easiest for
the teacher or the librarian to handle: "They made me do it!" Groups
approach school boards and hoping to forego any confrontation, the
board will rule to remove, cut, or prohibit the targeted book. Again,
usually the consequences of such actions are not thought out.

7. Deliberate omission. This is a more subtle form of deliberate
exclusion. It is easy to claim innocence and ignorance in not providing
a specific book or to include it on a reading list.

8.  Curtailment. Curtailment is an extension of suppression of
materials and may just be a softer version of suppression. In this case,
the availability/or access to a particular book is limited. It's here,
but not everyone gets a chance to look at it.
Table 2

Censorship:
A Classroom Guide

1. At the beginning of the year,
provide parents a list of the novels
that will be used in the classroom.

2. Define the philosophy of reading
to be followed in the classroom
and explain that student
choice for additional reading is
important (Carlsen & Sherrill,
1988) and that choice of those
novels is between students and
parents.

3. Have a written rationale for
every classroom novel that will
be used.

4. Define the learning goals for
each novel.

5. Encourage parents to read the
novels and to discuss them with
their students.

6. If there is a problem, ask the
parents to suggest an alternative
that will meet the designated
learning objectives.
Table 3

Rationales
for Selecting Books

1. For what class is this book especially
appropriate?

2. To what particular objective,
literary, psychological or pedagogical,
does this book lend
itself?

3. In what ways will the book be
used to meet those objectives?

4. What problems of style, tone,
or theme in the book are possible
grounds for censorship?

5. How does the teacher plan to
meet those problems?

6. Assuming that the objectives
are met, how would students be
different because of their reading
of this book?

7. What are some other appropriate
books an individual student
might read in place of this
book?

8. What reputable sources have
recommended this book? What
have critics said of it? (This
answer should cite reviews, if
any are available.)

Note. From Bushman & Parks-Haas, 2001, p. 252.
Table 4
When There
Is A Problem

1. Arrange for a parent conference.

2. Be sure to ask if the parent has
   read the entire book.

3. Make sure that the parent
   understands the goals and
   objectives for using this particular
   book.

4. Ask the parent to list his or her
   objections to the novel as completely
   as possible.

5. Provide a written rationale and
   defense of the use of the novel.

6. If there is still a problem, ask the
   parent to suggest an alternative
   and appropriate novel that will
   meet the designated learning
  objectives.

7. Respect parents' values.

8. Make sure the student does not
   get caught in the middle of a
   disagreement.
Table 5
Novels That Discuss Censorship

* Nothing But the Truth (Avi, 1991)
* Fahrenheit 451 (40th Anniversary Edition) (Ray Bradbury, 1993)
* The Year They Burned the Books (Nancy Garden, 1999)
* The Day They Came to Arrest the Book (Nat Hentoff, 1982)
* The Ninth Issue (Dallin Malmgren, 1989)
* The Last Safe Place on Earth (Richard Peck, 1995)
* The Last Book in the Universe (Rodman Philbrick, 2000)
* Save Halloween (Stephanie Tolen, 1993)

Reference List

Baskin, B., & Harris, K. (1980). Books for the gifted child. New York: Bowker.

Broderick, D. (1986). Areas and issues: Children and books. In Z. Sutherland, & M. Arbuthnot (Eds.), Children and books (7th ed., pp. 614-615). Glenview, IL: Foresman.

Bushman, J., & Parks-Haas, K. (2001). Using young adult literature in the English classroom (3rd ed). Columbus, OH: Prentice-Hall.

Carlsen, R., & Sherrill, A. (1988). Voices of readers: How we come to love books. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Halsted, J. (1993). Some of my best friends are books: Guiding gifted readers from pre-school to high school. Dayton: Ohio Psychology Press.

Hunt, B., & Seney, R. (2001). Planning the learning environment. In F. A. Karnes, & S. M. Bean, Methods and materials for teaching the gifted (pp. 43-89). Waco TX: Prufrock Press.

Naylor, A (1986). Censorship. In Z. Sutherland, & M. Arbuthnot (Eds.), Children and books (7th ed., pp. 615-622). Glenview, IL: Foresman.

National Council for Teachers of English. (1978). Censorship: Don't let it become an issue in your schools. [Brochure]. Author.

Seney, R. (2001a, November). What's new in young adult literature: 2001 edition. Paper presented at the National Association for Gifted Children conference, Cincinnati, OH.

Seney, R. (2001b, December). What's new in young adult literature: 2001 edition. Paper presented at the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented conference. San Antonio, TX.

Seney, R. (2002, February). What's new in young adult literature: 2001 edition. Paper presented at the Mississippi Association for Middle Level Learners conference. Hattiesburg, MS.

Silverman, L. K. (1993). Counseling the gifted and talented. Denver, CO: Love.

Whitehead, R. (1984). A guide to selecting books for children. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow.

Robert W. (Bob) Seney, Ed.D., is a professor in gifted studies at the Mississippi University for Women and the director of the Mississippi Governor's School. He may be reached at Mississippi University for Women, P.O. Box W-129, Columbus, MS 39701; bseney@muw.edu.

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