Professional Development

How to Minimize Challenges to Materials

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — September 26, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

School libraries tend to be the subject of the greatest number of formal complaints about the content of books and materials available to students. But challenges to curriculum materials, such as classroom libraries, films, and assigned readings, have seen an uptick over the past several years, according to the National Council of Teachers of English.

The Urbana, Ill.-based organization tracks such challenges and reports them annually in its online newsletter. For the 2005-06 school year, 92 such complaints were filed with schools and districts.

“Lots of books still get challenged [in the classroom], … from old standbys, classics like Of Mice and Men,to what I would term new classics, particularly multicultural works, from Rudolfo Anaya, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou,” said the NCTE’s Millie Davis, who compiles the report.

See Also

Read the accompanying story,


A variety of resources also help teachers tackle potentially controversial content in the classroom. The professional organization writes rationales for dozens of literary works and films, outlining how they meet academic standards, and it offers guidelines to teachers who want to draft their own rationales.

Pat R. Scales, who spent nearly four decades as a middle school librarian before retiring from the Greenville, S.C., district in 2005, offers lessons for teaching such materials in her book, Teaching Banned Books. The book, published by the American Library Association, offers strategies for teaching a dozen texts that are often the subject of formal complaints in the middle grades.

“Teachers are really frightened of kids, and frightened of their parents and how they might react to a text,” Ms. Scales said. “They need to learn skills for talking to kids about tough issues.”

Ms. Davis and Ms. Scales suggest that teachers:

• Have a written rationale for using a particular text or film, explaining how it meets curriculum requirements and academic standards;

• Give students an alternative or a choice of other readings to complete an assignment in the event they or their parents object to the original selection; and

• Avoid introducing new materials before reviewing their value and appropriateness for the lesson.

But teachers should not let the avoidance of contention dictate their choice of instructional materials, Ms. Davis said.

“There’s no book that somebody won’t find something to object to, or no movie or film,” she said. “The odd beauty of that is that sometimes that’s the whole reason we teach [about controversial themes], so we can raise those difficult issues and discuss them in a safe environment.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 2006 edition of Education Week as How to Minimize Challenges to Materials


Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Opinion Personal Finance Courses Are Booming. Do We Have the Teachers We Need?
Too few teachers currently have the training or the confidence for the job, writes an expert in personal finance education.
John Pelletier
5 min read
Illustration of teacher teaching about finances.
Aleksei Naumov / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Professional Development Opinion In Staff Professional Development, Less Is More
There’s a key ingredient missing from most PD sessions, PLCs, and education conferences.
Brooklyn Joseph
4 min read
Image of a grid with various segments dedicated to training and a large section dedicated to a clock.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
Professional Development This Principal Knew PD Was Irrelevant. So He and His Teachers Changed It
A Vermont principal and teacher describe their school's new approach to PD.
5 min read
Emilee Fertick, left, a first-year teacher at Westview Middle, and Jenny Risinger, the director of professional development and induction, practice a phonemic exercise during induction.
Emilee Fertick, left, a first-year teacher at Westview Middle, and Jenny Risinger, the director of professional development and induction, practice a phonemic exercise during induction.
Lindsey Hodges/The Index-Journal via AP
Professional Development Q&A Teachers Dread PD. Here's How One School Leader Made It Engaging
Teachers need to collaborate in their own learning, said Courtney Walker, an assistant principal from Georgia.
5 min read
Photo of teachers working with instructor.
E+ / Getty