featured-image
student support

If We Don't Give Students the Freedom to Choose What They Read, They May Choose Not to Read at All

Once again there is a story about censorship in schools. A Catholic school in Tennessee has decided their students should not read Harry Potter because they may conjure up evil spirits

When the first Harry Potter book was published in the late 90s, I was in high school. Religious groups were all over the news raising concerns about J.K. Rowling’s book. There were complaints about the book promoting witchcraft and evil. I even heard members of my church condemning the book.

As a parent, you have the right to dictate what your child can read, but the school should not be restricting books before parents even have a say. When books are banned, it brings more attention to the book. Book bans stoke students’ curiosity about a book and make them want to read it even more.

Teaching with Controversial Texts

I remember when I was teaching middle school English and "Thirteen Reasons Why" was released. There were (and still are) concerns about the content of the book—some schools banned it. My students asked me if they should read it.

I read the book with some of my students and parents were notified about the content. It wasn’t a whole class assignment—some students chose the novel as part of their independent reading requirement for my class. The cherry on top of the ice cream sundae was author Jay Asher came to speak about the book.

However, I wonder how many of my students would have read "Thirteen Reasons Why" had people not raised all of these concerns about it. When teachers ask me how to get kids reading, I tell them to talk about books. So if you don’t want students to read a book, banning—or engaging in the debates that surround banning—is the worst action to take.

Support Students' Choices

If you really have concerns about what students are reading, make a plan to support them, such as reading a controversial book with them and setting aside time to talk about it together. Banning a book and having students get their hands on it—and reading it alone—can cause more problems than if the book were never banned at all.

Students need a choice in what they read. It is one way they will become engaged in the text. Students who do not have a choice about what to read may not become good readers. They may, in fact, choose not to read at all—and you only become a good reader by reading.  For this reason, schools should be the last place where reading is restricted.

These Harry Potter concerns are two decades old. I’m just waiting for real evidence of the spirits that have been conjured up from students reading Harry Potter. After all, I thought schools were into data-based decisions.

A version of this post originally appeared on Indy K12 as "Give Students the Freedom to Choose What They Read."
Shawnta S. Barnes

Shawnta is a married mother of identical twin boys. As an Indiana native, she attended school in two Indianapolis school districts; she attended Indianapolis Public Schools for two years and completed her education in Lawrence Township Schools. Her sons entered kindergarten during the 2016-2017 school year, so she not only navigates Indianapolis schools from the educator's perspective but also ...

Join the Movement