Approved by the NCTE Executive Committee, July 2013
In an effort to avoid book controversies, some school districts have begun the practice of rating or even "red-flagging" books that have been challenged in other schools. Rating books by some sort of symbol or letter, or denoting books that have been challenged -- by someone, somewhere -- does not provide meaningful information and increases the likelihood that such books will be unavailable to students.
While we appreciate the desire to inform parents about the books their children are reading and why they were selected, information provided to parents should also explain the educational value of a book and the reason it is being used with a particular group of students. Lists that segregate books into artificially-created categories based on previous challenges give a biased perspective, casting a negative light on listed books regardless of their literary worth, stoking unnecessary alarm over their content. Such categorization defers to a minority who object to a book -- often for random, personal, or ideological reasons -- rather than the thousands who have read, taught, enjoyed, and benefitted from the book. More importantly, "red-flagging" privileges the concerns of would-be censors over the professional judgment of teachers and librarians who review and select the books for their students. Rating books by emphasizing the "mature" content in particular books or creating a list of previously banned or challenged books will likely encourage additional challenges and stimulate continuing controversy. Worse, such ratings narrow the curriculum to only books that are deemed "safe" and may deny students access to a wide variety of reading material.
NCTE believes that literature is more than the sum of its parts and has developed policies that strongly discourage censorship. Letter ratings and "red-flagging" is a blatant form of censorship; the practice reduces complex literary works to a few isolated elements -- those that some individuals may find objectionable -- rather than viewing the work as a whole. In addition, NCTE encourages schools to provide rationales that explain how and why certain books are used as well as the pedagogical purposes these materials serve instead of relying on a system of warnings that, in fact, discourages wide reading. Dialogue between teachers and parents regarding materials used in the classroom fosters trust, cooperation, and a more complete understanding of how texts are used to meet educational goals. Such a process also encourages the opportunity for student and parental choice while honoring the expertise of teachers.
Red-flagging and rating books for controversial content undermines the process of book selection based on educational criteria and, instead, leads parents, teachers, and entire school districts down a slippery slope toward censorship.