Lesson Plan: Language Arts
The dissemination of thoughts and ideas--whether it be through prose, oratory or the art--has been challenged throughout history. Most teachers are comfortable discussing the obvious and extreme examples of censorship. For example the imprisonment of Socrates on the charge he was corrupting youth with his ideas; or the ways the Nazi Party in Germany used book burning as a form of intimidation; or how, even today, the release of the last eleven censored words from the Pentagon Papers still fosters national news. The challenge in teaching students to explore the impact of censorship is in explaining the overt and covert forms of censorship and providing a means of analyzing how or why censorship is used.
- Censorship is designed intentionally to restrict or protect freedom of expression, access to information and social welfare.
- Censorship occurs in multiple mediums and through a variety of actions.
- Censorship impacts one’s freedom of expression and action and ability to make informed decisions.
The 21st Century Skills framework is a complex system that incorporates content knowledge, specific skills, expertise, and literacies to create a cohesive system of student outcomes and support systems. The Teen Thoughts on Democracy program utilizes the Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework to further the skills cultivated through this progressive game-based curriculum such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation.
Download this user-friendly chart for detailed information on lesson components and how to access the lesson resources for Censorship theme.
Censor is a dynamic, small group board game that engages students in cooperative play as they strategize a chase around Manhattan to capture a player who has been deemed a “violator” of free speech and expression. The historical storyline and actions of the game can provide a springboard to real-world First Amendment case studies.
Historical Note: This game is inspired by a true historical organization—The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, whose founder Anthony Comstock initially advocated for laws banning obscene material regarding birth control and sexuality on grounds of obscenity. Comstock later engaged personally in moral vigilantism and broadened his interpretation of “obscenity” to include art. He was responsible for the censoring of paintings, plays, and books.
Six agents are on a mission to catch a rogue artist who is attempting to publish three artworks of purportedly questionable taste. This game is set up as a board game where only the agents' movements are visible as they try to guess the artist’s trail. Both, artist and agents keep each other guessing by using decoy artwork and decoy agents as a strategy to mask their paths on the board. There are multiple board game pieces to assemble before playing, so allow ample time to prepare the game before playing.
Detailed Teacher Instructions are included in the Censor game materials.
- Once the games are completed, have all the students return to their seats in the circle for a debrief.
- This is an opportunity for you to guide the students’ reflection and prepare them for research on the literature you will be studying.
- Guiding Questions (Adapt depending on how you may be approaching the literature.)
- What do you think about playing the CENSOR game today?
- What surprised you?
- What happened to you and your teammates as you played?
- Thinking about your experiences with each other at the beginning and then at the end of the game—did anything change? If so, what changed?
- How did the agents treat the artist? How did it feel to have the power of the agent?
- How did it feel to be persecuted for being an artist?
- What do you think is the role of an artist in society? Does society need artists? Why?
- Who decides what a vice is in our society or community? What are some activities that are commonly understood as vices in our society?
- When should people question their government or the government’s motives? Why?
- What are the conditions under which we might question authority?
- Has anyone heard that the Chinese government banned Facebook? (If not, explain the government’s reasons for implementing that policy – to inhibit social discourse that could lead to civil unrest.)
- Do you think attempting to limit the access to social media can give governments more control over their citizens?
The following two short stories will assist students in understanding the multiple methods of censorship and their effects: “The Censors” by Luisa Valenzuela and “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
- “The Censors” (Los censores) by Luisa Valenzuela centers on Juan, who initially takes a job with the government’s censorship office in order to intercept a letter he mailed.
Read the story in class with the students and engage in a discussion using the following questions:
- In what way were you and your teammates just like Juan when playing the CENSOR game? What were your goals/missions as you played the game and what was Juan’s goal?
- What was ironic about Juan in the story?
- What might Juan have been thinking when he was arrested?
- How did Juan change as he moved up in his job? (Why did Juan keep being promoted in his government job? What qualities allowed him to succeed?)
- In working for the government, was Juan doing what was moral and just?
- Did he die for a good cause? Explain your answer with details from the text.
- Write down the characters’ names (George Bergeron, Hazel Bergeron, Harrison Bergeron, Ballerina, and Handicapper General) on a sheet of paper and list, while reading the story, the methods and ways in which the characters are censored or restricted.
- Do we (country, community, school, parents, you) censor others for fairness or for equality as well? If so, how, or who is censored? Who is our “Handicapper General”?
- What is equality?
- How can restrictions lead to equality?
- How can restrictions impede equality?
- What does Harrison teach us?
- What does the Handicapper General teach us?
- How does this story change your thoughts about censorship?
The American Library Association sponsors “Banned Books Week” each year and commissions the design of a poster to celebrate every individual's “freedom to read.” This freedom is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We are not only free “to choose what we read, but also to select from a full array of possibilities. Although we enjoy an increasing quantity and availability of information and reading material, we must remain vigilant to ensure that access to this material is preserved; would-be censors who continue to threaten the freedom to read come from all quarters and all political persuasions. Even if well intentioned, censors try to limit the freedom of others to choose what they read, see, or hear.” (from ALA,“Books Challenged or Banned in 2010-2011”)
In this activity students are challenged to design a poster celebrating the “freedom to read” or address the censoring or banning of a particular book. A list of books banned by governments around the world can be found on Wikipedia. Examples of ALA-commissioned posters for “Banned Books Week” are included below.
- Download, print, and distribute copies of a selection of the ALA-commissioned posters created by contemporary artists for Banned Book Week; or you may provide the link to the website for students to view images online or project them in your classroom.
- Divide the class into 3-4 person groups. Instruct students to analyze and discuss, within their groups, the ideas expressed in the posters and the graphic words and images the designers have used to convey those ideas.
- Each group will then design a poster on an approximately 12 x 18 inches poster board (or roughly one-half of a board) using collaged images and texts to convey a message about censorship and banning of books or other modes of receiving information (such as the internet). Distribute the Poster Design Rubric to each group for review as they begin their design process.
- Each group will make an in-class presentation about the poster it designed explaining the choices made in terms of topic, strategy of emotional appeal, and use of text, fonts, images, and colors.
- The class should vote on the most successful posters to be uploaded to Interact section of website. (You will need to request to set up a Community Group before images can be uploaded.)
The topics and activities below further address issues raised in the short stories “The Censors” by Luisa Valenzuela and “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.:
“Inherit the Wind” by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is a play based on the Scopes Trial (aka “Monkey Trial”) in 1925.
This drama is often misunderstood as a trial about evolution and creationism, when in actuality, the play’s adaptation and the trial’s cornerstone were about freedom of speech. In the “Production Notes by the Playwrights,” Lawrence and Lee state: “Inherit the Wind” is not about the theory of evolution versus the literal interpretation of the Bible. It assaults those who would constrict any human being’s right to think, to teach, to learn. Our major theme is “the dignity of the individual human mind.”
Many of the trial scenes in the play and film are taken directly from the trial transcripts. While the play is not available in e-text form, one of the most important trial scenes from the film (1960) is available online at American Rhetoric: "Henry Drummond Questions Matthew Brady on the Scientific Authority of the Bible."
- Students should first develop a working definition of "freedom of expression" that includes every mode or medium they might use. This should be done in small groups and then shared with the whole class to finalize the definition.
- After watching the film or reading the script, follow up with a discussion using the following questions:
- What influences how we think?
- What regulations, rules, or restrictions affect even our ability to think? For example, how can we have freedom if what we are being told and taught is restricted by authority figures?
- Do you think what we are taught changes over time? Who decides when it is okay to think something new or different from the past?
- In the quote, "...it was a time and place when minority opinions were suspect," what is being said?
- Does it apply to today, especially since 9/11?
- Why might minority opinions be seen as "suspect," and how might such suspicions limit one's freedom of expression or a minority group's freedom of expression?
- As Drummond questions Brady about the ability to think and act, Brady states, "Each man is a free agent!" How is a man's or woman's agency--or capacity to exert power--a part of their freedom of expression?
- At the end of the play, Drummond defends Brady and the freedom to think by angrily pointing out that, "Brady has the same rights as Cates: the right to be wrong!" What is Drummond arguing in this quotation--what does being "right" or "wrong" have to do with freedom of expression or freedom of speech?
- In this regard, does freedom have a cost or a price, and what is that cost? Who pays the cost? Who reaps the benefits?
Room for Debate: When Free Speech Feels Wrong
- If your school is a one-to-one school, provide students with The New York Times Room for Debate. Otherwise, print and copy each editorial in the series.
- Read the introduction to the debate aloud to the entire class. Ask students to hold their opinions for now.
- Split the students into six (6) small groups. Distribute the editorials and assign one opinion to each group. Instruct students to read, analyze and share their ideas about the author’s opinion. Encourage the students to discuss in their groups how well the author debates and qualifies his or her argument, using the following questions:
- What examples or what types of support does the author use?
- Do they seem valid? Why or why not?
- Are any exceptions to the author’s argument or any holes in his or her opinion?
- Opening Statement (1 student)
- Major Arguments (2-3 students)
- Rebuttal (2-3 students)
- Closing Statement (1 student)
"Los Censores (The Censors)” by Luisa Valenzuela, (2000)
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, (1961)
"Books Challenged or Banned in 2010-2011", Robert P. Doyle, online pamphlet, published by the American Library Association. (Used by permission from the Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association.)
Posters designed for American Library Association’s Banned Books Week [LINK TO JPEGS]
(Used by permission from the Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association)