25 Quotes To Use in Your Classroom if Your District Is Banning Everything

You can cage the singer, but not the song.

Image of a woman looking upward paired with quote about censorship

Maybe it’s the biological fieriness that comes with my being a redhead. Maybe it’s because I taught highly gifted kids for so long and their penchant for loopholes is now etched into my very being. Maybe it comes from my own teachers who encouraged intellectual discourse. Whatever the reason, there are few things I love more than a rebellious spirit.

As states and districts around the country implement more archaic (and frankly unconstitutional) guidelines for their libraries, teachers, and classrooms, I’ve been wondering how teachers can fight back. When they can’t speak up in their own classrooms with restrictive legislation or outside the classroom with non-disparagement clauses, it seems like teachers’ choices are either to stay and be silenced, or leave the classroom altogether.

Or is there a third choice?

What about staying … and resisting? What about finding ways to honor the humanity of your students that can’t get banned? Can educators continue to teach in a way that rejects the idea that we are made better by ignorance, sameness, and inequity?

They can outlaw your Black Lives Matter signs and the pictures of your spouses. But until they resort to banning written and spoken language, you can still use quotes that affirm the value of freedom, equality, diversity, and censorship. Because these quotes don’t contain the “woke” language on cheat sheets given to parents and district officials to sniff out offending teachers, these will sail right over the heads of anyone who becomes unhinged upon seeing a rainbow flag.


Here are some ways to use these quotes:

  • Verbally as class discussion starters. “What does this mean to you?”
  • As classroom decorations on letter boards or bulletin boards.
  • On a Smartboard, projector screen, or whiteboard as a “quote of the day.”
  • As journal prompts. “Reflect on what ___ is saying here. Does this quote still have relevance today? If so, how?”
  • On random scraps of paper hidden throughout the classroom for kids to find during the year like little Easter eggs.

25 Rebellious Quotes for Teachers To Use in Their Classrooms

Note: I selected the quotes from this list from the International Federation of Library Associations’ (IFLA) wonderful compilation of quotes on intellectual freedom and censorship.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

(“Who will watch the watchers?”)

—Juvenal (1st to 2nd cent. A.D.)

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it’s right.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

—William Butler Yeats

“Only oppression should fear the full exercise of freedom.”

—Jose Marti

“Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.”

—Sir Laurens Van Der Post

“To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

—Frederick Douglass

“Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think. And there is no freedom of thought without doubt.”

—Bergen Evans

“The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.”

—Wole Soyinka

“I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.”


“Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.”

—Albert Einstein

“You can cage the singer but not the song.”

—Harry Belafonte

“… death is uniformity. “

—Octavio Paz

“You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?”

—Kahlil Gibran

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

—Jose Luis Borges

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

—Thomas Jefferson

“There is nothing more frightening than active ignorance.”

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

—Virginia Woolf

“The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history.”

—Carl Thomas Rowan

“Whenever citizens are seen routinely as enemies of their own government, writers are routinely seen to be the most dangerous enemies.”

—Edgar Laurence Doctorow

“In Russia all tyrants believe poets to be their worst enemies.”

—Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko, Russian Poet

“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”

—Mahatma Gandhi

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

—Martin Luther King Jr.

“Never, ‘for the sake of peace and quiet,’ deny your own experience or convictions.”

—Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold

“In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost.”

—Alfred Whitney Griswold

“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”

—Ray Bradbury

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

—Ray Bradbury

What if you get criticized or reported for treasonous thinking? Easy. “Oh, I had no idea! Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. Will take it down right away.”

You have thousands of replacements to choose from.

Which quote is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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25 Quotes To Use in Your Classroom if Your District Is Banning Everything