Disciplinary Hat activities ask you to take on the role of a person who works in a particular field or discipline. In this exercise you will walk in the shoes of a professional who must decide to ban or preserve a book in the literary canon or who must develop a list for the canon. Select one of the following activities in order to consider the development of a canon or the issue of banned books from a perspective other than your own.
Select the topic that most interests you, and explore it from the viewpoint of someone else who would also have an interest in this matter. To truly put yourself into his or her shoes, you will need to know what interests are most important to a person in this discipline or situation?
Through Another's Eyes: The Banned Book Debate
Consider the banned book debate from someone else's point of view. First choose one of the following groups. Select a group that is accessible to you—meaning, a member of the group that you can interview locally or by e-mail.
- teachers from an elementary school
- English language arts teachers from a middle school
- English language arts teachers from a high school
- principals (from an elementary, middle, or high school)
- local school board member
Address the debate through their eyes by doing the following:
- Make a list of what you believe would be the primary concerns and interests of this group. What do you think this group believes about banning or preserving books, and what do you think this group believes are the types of books certain ages should be reading? Why do you think this group has this set of beliefs?
- Work with your mentor, parent or guardian to arrange an interview.
- Request an interview with politeness. Remember that the person is no doubt busy with his or her life and may not have a lot of time for an interview and that you may be a stranger to this person. Never assume that the person owes you an interview. Take a look at the sample interview request hand out; you can use this as an e-mail or script for a phone call when approaching the individual.
- Prepare all your questions ahead of time. See a list of sample interview questions you might use. Practice with your mentor, parent, or guardian, if you are nervous.
- Bring ample note-taking materials. If you wish to record the live interview by audio or video, ask for permission first. (Note: if you are taking notes, never ask a speaker to "slow down" or say, "Wait, I didn't get that." Instead say, "Would you mind repeating that?" and do not overuse this request. If you can't get all the details down, listen as carefully as possible and repeat what the person says to you in your head, willing yourself to remember it. Then, after the interview, take notes as quickly as possible before you forget information.)
- Thank your interviewee for his or her time.
- Step into the shoes of the person by writing a letter.
- With your newly-gathered information, write a letter to the local school board assuming the role of the person you interviewed and requesting that the book either be banned or removed from the banned list.
- Share this letter with your mentor, who will assess it. (Do not send the letter.)
- Share this letter with your interviewee and ask for feedback. Did you accurately capture the perspective of your interviewee? Revise your letter as needed.
Bonus Challenge: Using local news sources and the public library, investigate whether the group you chose has challenged or banned a book in your local schools in the last 100 years. Work with your mentor to develop a list of reputable and legitimate online resources to consult, and, if needed, conduct some interviews. Write a letter to the local school board responding to the issue, representing your opinions. (Again, don't actually send the letter.)
For a slightly different angle on this activity, consider another source for your interview:
- a professor at a college or university
- an author of a certain genre of book
- a literary critic
- a member of the Nobel Prize committee
- a publisher
Talk to your mentor about how you could learn more about these constituencies and how they influence literary canons.
Now let's take an in-depth look at one of the factors that can lead to book banning: the author's use of language. Head to the next page.