Celebrate Banned Books with NEHS

As literature lovers, it is our instinctual response to regard Banned Books Week with a modicum of solemn reflection; a week when we think about the thousands of people unable to enrich their literary lives with profound works like Animal Farm, Lolita, and Harry Potter (my personal favorite). The loss of awareness is something all literary scholars dread and actively work to stave off. Emotionally, the idea of “banned books” hits upon a specific nerve found especially in those who deeply love the written word.

Read Banned Books

While I recognize the need for pensive contemplation, I propose that English students, academics, and aficionados adopt a new emotional regard for the week. Instead of thinking about the losses and setbacks caused by banned or burned books, we should observe the celebration of shifts in human ideology and history. Many books are banned because they conflict with historically sensitive events. When we’re still learning how to deal with these ideological conflicts, the literature supporting controversial beliefs is often the first thing to be villainized.

Banned Books PersepolisFor example, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, is a memoir detailing the author’s experiences growing up during the Iranian Revolution. The critically acclaimed text has received accolades for its honest and visceral depiction of such a politically charged and controversial historical moment. However, Persepolis is one of the most contested books of the past decade. Many reasons for banning the text stemmed from anti-Islam relations following a post 9/11 ideological shift. The lifted ban on Persepolis signaled the merit of Satrapi’s text and was indicative of the tensions between America and Iran at the time. In this case, and many others like it, literature and book-banning history reflected the tumultuous issues occurring in contemporary society.

Instead of looking at Banned Books Week as a solemn affair, let’s regard it as a symbolic indicator of human progress and achievement. If that doesn’t seem sufficient enough reason to celebrate, Banned Books Week exemplifies the dynamic power of literature as a touchstone for humanity.

Banned Books Persepolis comic

So celebrate by reading a recently challenged book, or just read Harry Potter again as I am doing.

Banned Books Week Social Media Contest

In celebration of Banned Books Week Sigma Tau Delta and National English Honor Society are teaming up to host a contest across our combined social media accounts. We want to hear about your favorite banned book! To participate you must tag us in a post about your favorite banned book on any of the following social media accounts:

In need of some inspiration for your post? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Share a photo of your favorite banned book on Instagram
  • Share your favorite quote from a banned book on Twitter
  • Share your rationale against banning books, or banning a particular book, on Facebook
  • Send us a Snap talking about your favorite Banned Book

The contest will run from Sunday, September 25-Saturday, October 1. Everyone who participates during this time frame will be entered in a drawing to win one of three $25 Amazon gift cards. A $45 Amazon gift card also will be awarded to the best overall post. You may post to multiple accounts to improve your odds of winning, but please tell us about a different book in each post!

Banned Books Haley HelgesenHaley Helgesen
Student Representative, Midwestern Region, 2016-2017
Phi Delta Chapter
Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL

Intellectual Freedom: Support Banned Books Week

In fulfillment of the National English Honor Society‘s (NEHS) ambition to honor literature and promote free and open access to books, the Society endorses the American Library Association‘s celebration of Banned Books Week, held annually during the final week of September. Banned Books Week unites the greater book community in the shared endeavor to protect the right to express ideas, especially those considered unorthodox or unpopular. In celebration of Banned Books Week NEHS hosts the Intellectual Freedom Challenge, urging students to craft arguments in support of frequently contested books or those likely to be contested in the future.

Defend Banned BooksPrepare to Fight Banned Books

As the school year begins, teachers make decisions as they prepare to welcome students. Those decisions run from the way classrooms will be arranged to the scheduling of curricular units throughout the coming months. The selection of texts to assign students—the novels, plays, poems, short stories, and non-fiction pieces that are often the centerpieces of our discipline—is key to the decisions about curricula, particularly for English teachers. Teachers make those decisions by considering the students with whom they will work as well as the expectations of the unit of study. At times, teachers select texts that may, in the view of some, be controversial due to language used, action depicted, or thematic complexity contained. It seems wise for educators to have written and posted rationales for the use of all texts; such rationales should be an integral part of every English teacher’s files, reflecting the decision-making that goes into the selection of particular texts for study.

Read Banned BooksStudents should be engaged in the process of text selection and defense as well; we want all life-long readers to be informed consumers of texts, readers who investigate texts that challenge and clarify their own thinking and that open new realms of knowledge. As students are guided to read challenging and in some cases controversial texts, they begin to develop their own sense of appropriateness and, we hope, become defenders of the written and spoken word. Teachers serve as role models in this development. The future needs individuals to stand for the right to read that exists in a democratic country.

The 2016 Intellectual Freedom Challenge Contest

Timed to coincide each year with the celebration of Banned Books Week, scheduled this year from September 25-October 1, NEHS encourages participation in the Intellectual Freedom Challenge. Sophomore and junior members of NEHS are invited to submit essays dealing with a text that may be perceived by some as controversial. Students are to submit essays that delineate a careful argument for the inclusion of the text for classroom study or support restricting the text in some way. University professors who are members of Sigma Tau Delta and members of the National Advisory Council of NEHS will evaluate essays; the best essays will garner monetary awards for the students and their chapters. Essays may be submitted from October 3 through November 14.

Dave WendelinBy Dave Wendelin
NEHS Executive Director

Lindsey L. Ward: 2015-2016 Outstanding NEHS Advisor

Dave WendelinDave Wendelin
NEHS Director

The National English Honor Society (NEHS) is pleased to announce that the first recipient of the John L. Manear Outstanding Advisor Award is Lindsey L. Ward from The Woodlands College Park High School in Texas. This is the inaugural year for this award, named for John Manear who has been teaching high school English for fifty years (as of 2016) in Pittsburgh. Manear also has served on the NEHS Advisory Council since its inception and helped launch the Society in its earliest stages of development.

L Ward

Lindsey L. Ward, 2015-2016 Outstanding NEHS Advisor

Ward represents the very best of the NEHS Advisors who guide student members each day across the spectrum of our 850+ chapters. Educated at the University of Houston and Sam Houston State University, Lindsey has led her NEHS chapter since 2009. Her department chair notes, “[When she assumed the role of Advisor], Lindsey breathed new life into the program. Over the last six years, she has built the program and increased student membership by more than 20%.” The Cavalier Chapter at The Woodlands averages 150 members each year, all of whom are engaged in significant literacy efforts for the community. One of Lindsey’s colleagues shared, “She has a way of motivating the student members and faculty volunteers alike to work hard to achieve the [Society’s] goals.” From bake sales to picnics on National Reading Day, from collecting over 3,000 books for the Conroe Family Clinic to starting a free tutoring program at the high school, Ward has led her chapter to the “duty” aspect that comes with the “honor” of being a member of NEHS. Perhaps most significant, however, is the praise she received from a student who wrote in a nomination letter, “Ms. Ward understands what it is to be a student. She is kind, patient, always has a smile on her face, and never fails to make all members [of NEHS] leave meetings with smiles on their faces.”

Lindsey will receive a monetary award of $500 and a plaque to commemorate this recognition. Nominations for 2016-2017 will be accepted through April 1, 2017. Visit our website for more information about the award and the process of nomination.