Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Censorship is Always Wrong

Censorship hit close to home yesterday when a book was challenged  locally. Articles have appeared around the world about the controversy:
Boston: New Hampshire Parents Object to "Offensive" Book: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2010/12/07/nh-parents-ask-for-book-to-be-removed-from-class/

When I heard about the issue, the hair on my arm prickled. I have not read the book, but as a librarian/archivist I fall strongly on the side of intellectual freedom. This was the first time that book banning had become more than business or more than an abstract possibility in my community. It had become personal. A challenge to my right to read what I want, and more importantly a challenge against my child's right to be given an education through every book she can get her hands on, is frightening to me. I do not want an ugly precedent set here in my small NH town.

I wrote to my school board to express my opinion that children should be exposed to diverse points of view.  I plastered my personal social web space with quotes from the American Library Association.

‎"... the freedom to read is essential to our democracy, and reading is among our greatest freedoms...every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of American society and leaves it less able to deal with controversy and difference...intellectual freedom is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture..." - American Library Association 

Many people had lots of thoughtful things to say on a local Yahoo web site. Many people with very diverse political and religious views fell on the side against censorship. A friend responding to my ALA posting summed it up appropriately, "Censorship is always wrong!"

1. If we value personal freedoms, as we claim to do in our democracy, we must also make an earnest effort to accept that our fellow citizens have diverse views.
2. School (especially high school) is the proper place to introduce materials for discussion that encourage logical thinking. One does not need to agree with material that is introduced, but should reflect upon it and use critical thinking skills to evaluate it. This will strengthen our understanding of ourselves and of those around us and allow us to make better informed decisions.
3. We all bring our own personal and community experiences to our efforts to evaluate our reading, but rejecting a point of view because it is not your point of view, uses language you wouldn't use, or is borne of a lifestyle with which you think you can't identify, is irresponsible. Strengthen your ability to make logical choices for yourself, your family, and your community by trying to understand why others have alternate opinions.
4. Trying to ban an argument that is not your own without consideration does not help your own cause. One should take in alternate views to make your own argument stronger. Rejecting the opportunity to read all kinds of information does not make you a better person. It makes you a dumber one.
5. Listening to alternate perspectives also prepares you to deal with movements that undermine you, your lifestyle or even your safety. Silencing your "enemy" does not make your "enemy" go away, it just sends the enemy underground. Open discourse helps disperse hostility.

I am pleased that the book will continue to be used in our school for now. It sounds like logical heads are  discussing the value of this particular book. I hope this discussion opens new doors for learning for me and for those in my community.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that removing the book is wrong but I would rather see school district supply a book that offers an opposite point of view. let the students read both books. Using the one book pushes a single point of view and could be considered indoctrination. The key in education is to get students to read critically and to question what they author has written.

    "16-year-old Jordan Henderson showed it to his parents because he was alarmed by obscene language and religious references. “Jesus is referred to as a wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist,” "
    my other question is "Is this book age appropriate? What is the teacher trying to teach?"