The Student News Site of Boston Latin School

The Argo

The Student News Site of Boston Latin School

The Argo

The Student News Site of Boston Latin School

The Argo

BLS’s Junior Research Paper Evolves

Mia Colón (II) works on her Junior Research Paper. (Source: Ben Choi-Harris (III))

Starting in the 2024-2025 school year, juniors will choose novels from a list of frequently banned titles for their Junior Research Paper.

The Junior Research Paper is a literary research paper required for all juniors taking English at Boston Latin School. It is eight to ten pages long and requires four critical sources. The assignment asks students to identify and analyze a theme and message that an author conveys in their novel, with the goal of improving students’ writing and independent research skills. Previously, students chose from a list of books by authors from Britain and the former British colonies.

The new topic of banned books encompasses numerous other disciplines, including literary study. BLS English teacher Mr. Mark Sanford explains, “Change is a good thing and very often benefits students and teachers alike. […] The new iteration is a more cross-disciplinary approach. […] It should prove to be an exciting, new platform for independent literary study that transcends conventional, abstract and conceptual-based interpretation of canonical works.”

In Massachusetts, books relating primarily to gender, sexuality and race have been challenged by parents. Over the past five years, about 70 books in school libraries were requested to be removed. Over ten school districts removed or placed restrictions on at least 17 books.

Curriculum on banned books aims to enhance one’s understanding of “controversial” topics and give students a better understanding of why books were banned. These books often address diverse topics that are deemed “too sensitive” for the student body.

Students express mixed emotions about the modification of the assignment. Some look forward to the new topic, as it allows students to consider different perspectives. Ruth Gelaye (III) remarks, “This change is very interesting, given that it provides more of a subjective standpoint for students to analyze their chosen novel. […] I am looking forward to developing new outlooks through the greater literary depth this new assignment facilitates.” 

Teachers also believe that this change would make the whole writing process easier for students, as the paper will be centered on issues that students can relate to in their own lives.

Mr. Sanford notes, “The primary concern is for students to feel confident in, proud of and gratified by their abilities and to learn the process as a matter of methodology. Our collective job is to prepare students for higher education and for informed citizenship.”

Others, on the contrary, think that changing the overarching theme to “banned books” will greatly limit what they can write about. Maya Koreth (II) says, “The most enjoyable part of the Junior Research Paper for me was coming up with a theme I was passionate about, and connecting my book’s main point and argument to that theme.”

By changing the theme to banned novels, the English Department delivers the message that reading is both a right and a freedom. With a vast number of dystopian authors having written about the insidious dangers of banning books, the English Department believes that reading in any manner is fundamental to an open democracy.

Gelaye concludes, “Many banned books are actually exceptional literary works that employ a plethora of rhetorical devices and themes. […] In addition, this change in requirements will challenge students to weigh in and consider different perspectives before picking a standpoint. Acquiring the ability to assess different perspectives is a lifelong skill that this research paper would allow students to adopt.”

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