They say there’s “nothing new under the sun,” and when it comes to students and their teachers choosing reading material and others sometimes objecting to those choices, the adage certainly applies. In fact, NCTE was founded in 1911 in protest against the college list of “standard authors” that high schools found it necessary to teach, an effort to give their students a fair chance on the entrance exams required to enter Harvard and other prestigious colleges. By the 1950s, the Council actively began fighting censorship, spurred on by McCarthyism. And in 1962, NCTE published its seminal intellectual freedom guideline, The Students’ Right to Read:
The right to read, like all rights guaranteed or implied within our constitutional tradition, can be used wisely or foolishly. In many ways, education is an effort to improve the quality of choices open to all students. But to deny the freedom of choice in fear that it may be unwisely used is to destroy the freedom itself. For this reason, we respect the right of individuals to be selective in their own reading. But for the same reason, we oppose efforts of individuals or groups to limit the freedom of choice of others or to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large.
The right of any individual not just to read but to read whatever he or she wants to read is basic to a democratic society. This right is based on an assumption that the educated possess judgment and understanding and can be trusted with the determination of their own actions.
As we begin this year’s Banned Books Week, remember that the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center is ready to help you defend the texts you teach—texts of all sorts—just as it has done every year for as many as 50 individuals and often many more texts.