Banned Book Project

If you’ve read these pages very often you might have guessed that although I have some strong opinions I seldom come right out and support causes.

I guess part of that comes from having taught in the public schools for so long. In my role as a teacher I didn’t feel comfortable taking sides out of fear that I would unduly influence students. I didn’t want students to blindly accept or reject my views; I wanted them to be able to examine causes rationally and make an intelligent decision on their own.

I guess this reticence to support causes still carries on, but one cause I can support whole-heartedly is the Banned Book Project.

Even while teaching I took pride in the fact that several of the books I chose to teach in my classes were banned. I was proud to include Huckleberry Finn, Grapes of Wrath, and Catch-22 in my Honors American Studies class. My modern literature class included classic works of depravity like Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird. How in Heaven’s name do books like this make a banned list?

Although I thoroughly disliked the self-centered Holden Caufield, I couldn’t imagine banning Catcher in the Rye, and often recommended it to kids who I thought might like it and who were doing book reports for extra credit. I even created an extra credit report once that had students examine the claim that Holden was a modern-day Huck Finn. While I thought the claim was pure bull, I was perfectly willing to give an “A” to any student who could make a good argument proving his view.

The reality is, though, that I was affected by attempts to censor what was taught. I once voluntarily withdrew a poetry book I liked a lot because of a poem by Ezra Pound. But the same complaint also cited such controversial poems as Emily Dickinson’s “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed.” Obviously the district patron was too stupid to understand that line because he s/he didn’t know what a metaphor was, and s/he obviously didn’t want her/his kid to understand either. God forbid that a kid should actually learn more than the parent.

What’s worse is that I realized after the fact that I and the rest of the English department self-censored what we taught to avoid having to go in front of the school board to justify each and every one of our curriculum choices.

In the end, of course, it’s the students who suffer from such censorship because they see an unrealistic version of the world, a sanitized version that makes them less capable of dealing with the world that really does exist.

If there’s shit out there, and there’s no denying that there is, you’d better be aware of it or you’re going to step in it and make a mess.

Then, again, of course, the patrons can blame the schools for not educating their children.

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