English instructor invites discussion using banned books
Have you read a banned book? Probably.
But in English Professor Desiree Henderson’s Topics in Literature course, that is all you will read. Dr. Henderson frequently makes selections using the American Library Association’s Top Ten Most Challenged Books Lists and their lists of Frequently Challenged Books.
“Banned books are usually great works of literature, so they’re fun to teach,” Henderson said. “But they’re usually banned because they deal with controversial social issues, so that always makes for great conversation amongst students.”
Henderson has discovered that she never has to persuade students to debate issues. And conversations become “very lively.”
“The fact that the books were banned sparks a conversation about why,” Henderson said. “What is it about the subject matter that caused people to respond that way? And that’s always a very generative conversation to have.”
A second reason for selecting banned books for this particular class is that the students are non-native English speakers, and come from widely variable backgrounds. Banned books’ authors and topics represent many countries, cultures, and generations.
“It needs to be accessible to a wide student population,” Henderson said, “and I think banned books are a great way of bringing people who don’t read a lot into the conversation. They tend to connect with the material in a way that they may not with other materials.
The course is very writing intensive, with lots of exercises.
“I’m not evaluating them on their personal stance on controversial issues,” Henderson said. “I want to use those debates to invite them into the conversation as student writers.”