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.
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.
Students 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.
By Dave Wendelin
NEHS Executive Director