Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Banned Books Week

By Shawn Healy
September 23-30 commemorates the 25th anniversary of Banned Books Week, a time to raise awareness of book challenges across the country. Sponsored by the American Library Association, it raises awareness of the First Amendment issues surrounding the freedom to read as academic liberty is continually placed in peril by a small cadre of school administrators, school board members, and concerned parents to name a few.

This issue hit close to home this past spring as a school board member in Arlington Heights, Illinois, attempted to remove nine books from the library collection of Township High School District 214. Leslie Pinney cited sexual content, language, and violence as the source of her ire, but even the best-selling Freakanomics made her hit list. The authors' statistical correlation between legalized abortion and falling crime rates apparently contradicted her worldview and the district's students should therefore be shielded from such scholarship.

Why not subject her viewpoint and that of Steven Leavitt (co-author of Freakanomics) to the marketplace of ideas, where students themselves can weigh multiple perspectives and decide what constitutes the truth? Recent scholarship has emerged to contradict Leavitt's findings, and who is to say that an Arlington Heights student might not be inspired to do the same after encountering these arguments?

As citizens we have a duty to stand tall for academic freedom. Oppose book challenges in your community even when you disagree vehemently with the author, for the slippery slope may also threaten the titles you hold dear. Read controversial books to expand your worldview. Encourage your children to to consult a similarly diverse literary selection. Join the ALA in celebrating Banned Books Week.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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