Intellectual Freedom Challenge (IFC)

NEHS, in partnership with Sigma Tau Delta, sponsors the Intellectual Freedom Challenge (IFC), which encourages students to write argumentative essays based on potentially controversial texts and, in doing so, compete for the Crafton Awards. These awards are named after Dr. Robert Crafton, past president of Sigma Tau Delta.

Some texts, both popular and niche, have recently become controversial due to the ideas presented, the language selected, or the scenes depicted. At times, this controversy becomes the catalyst for significant critical analysis of the work; at other times, members of the community raise objections that move the text in question to a public discussion forum. These public debates about the quality and appropriateness of the texts may be rancorous, resulting in attempts to ban or restrict the books in various ways.

While educators do not assign literature simply because it may be controversial, we do believe that a critical aspect of education, perhaps centered most significantly in English classrooms, is to instill an understanding of the importance of intellectual freedom in a democracy in students, hence the Intellectual Freedom Challenge.


Winning students will each receive a $100 check and a Crafton Award certificate. We understand that the high quality of writing we receive from students occurs in part because of their motivation, enthusiasm, and natural talent. However, a great part of every student’s success is the support of their teacher. To that end, NEHS will also be awarding checks of $50 to winning students’ Chapter Advisor.

Application Eligibility

  • Applicants must be active members of an active NEHS chapter.
  • Applicants must be in their sophomore or junior year.
  • Only 5 essays can be submitted by each chapter. Advisors must approve all submissions before students upload their writing in AwardSpring.

Submission Requirements

Choosing a Text

  1. Select and read a text that may be considered by some to be controversial. The controversy may be based on the ideas presented, the language used, or the scenes depicted. The text must have literary merit, a value that might place it in English or social studies classrooms for reading and discussion, or place it in libraries for students and teachers to select.
  2. Texts can include novels, graphic novels, young adult literature, poetry collections, short stories, or nonfiction.
  3. The text need not have been challenged officially or informally, but in the opinion of the reader may be challenged.

Writing a Response

  1. Applicants must write a rationale for the book, promoting an argument for the value of the text to be available to a wide and age-appropriate audience. The argument, regardless of reader stance, should consider counterarguments that differ from the writer’s opinion.
  2. Essays should be submitted as double-spaced text using a clear 12-point font with one-inch margins. Essays should not exceed three pages (850 words).
  3. The essay must include an interesting and informative title (do not simply use the title of the novel being discussed).
  4. MLA format guidelines should be utilized for citing the text and any other works referenced.
Read Submission Guidelines for instructions and the application link.

Submission Support / Resources

Submission Process

  • All submissions must be made via the NEHS AwardSpring platform by uploading a PDF document during the fall submission application period.
  • Submission deadline is Tuesday, October 10, 2023, 11:59 p.m. CDT.
  • Applicants must complete demographic data questions prior to submitting their documentation.
  • Applicants must include a brief biography and portrait photo.
  • Applicants must agree that they are willing to provide a written report and photos detailing the impact the award has had on them, which can be used by NEHS to promote this and other competitions in future years, if they receive one of the awards.

Evaluation process

  • All submissions will be evaluated by at least two Sigma Tau Delta Regents and NEHS Advisory Council members.
  • All submissions will be evaluated against a rubric containing (but not limited to) the following categories:
    1. Content
    2. Development
    3. Structure and organization
    4. Word Choice
    5. Sentence Variety
    6. Mechanics