Professional Development

How to Minimize Challenges to Materials

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — September 26, 2006 2 min read

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.

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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.”

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


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