A Hunger for Controversy: Exploring Controversial Topics Through Literature
Every book has the unique opportunity to take its reader on a fantastic voyage, bringing them into a world they have never seen before. This opportunity can also allow books to take readers into subjects and places that some parents and teachers might prefer to avoid. Unfortunately, if that book is censored or banned, a student’s opportunity to learn important lessons from that book is cut short.
Plenty of literary classics have found themselves banned from schools and libraries, despite their proven worthiness as a significant educational piece of literature. I like Alfred Whitney Griswold’s take on the topic: “Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.”
As 2011’s third most-challenged title from the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, The Hunger Games trilogy has certainly seen it’s fair share of controversy. (According to the ALA, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves based upon the objections of a person or group.”) As a teacher, you might be excited to embrace the underlying themes of government control and survival in The Hunger Games, but it’s hard to know if the learning benefits will outweigh parents’ concern over the content of the book. According to Common Sense Media, the books are appropriate for children ages 12 and up. If you are planning to study the book with older students, finding the right plan will help you create the best learning experience possible.
Avoiding the Path to Panem is a good example of a one-week unit of instruction that uses The Hunger Games as a starting point to raise challenging questions that directly impact students’ lives and world. The main challenge of the unit is, “How can we avoid the path to Panem, the post-apocalyptic world of The Hunger Games?” Instead of focusing on the controversial details of the story, the unit challenges students to dig deeper to apply the lessons from the book to their own lives. The final product of the unit is a Glog, an interactive, online poster created with Glogster EDU. Take a look at this and other units from Educurious. I liked the way they integrate technology and tough questions into their plans.
After reading The Hunger Games or another controversial book in your classroom, you might decide to involve your students with a discussion about censorship and book banning. If you search “banned book” on the Gateway, you will find a list of interesting lesson plans and activities on the topic. A search for “censorship” will also bring up some good resources. This topic gets into the heart of some of the basic freedoms allowed in the United States, and the idea of people trying to ban such a popular book might get them really fired up.
The ALA report shows that The Hunger Games is just one of many pieces of literature that are challenged every year. Other popular banned books include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Animal Farm, and The Lord of The Flies. Be sure to check out some of the resources available on the Gateway to help you make the most of these and other valuable books. After all, as one 12-year-old named Rory Edwards said in a Washington Post article, “I don't want to be shut out from the truth. If they ban books, they might as well lock us away from the world” I hope you are as excited as I am to bring these books to life and to keep our kids curious.