Monday, April 27, 2009

Discovering the Origin of the Idiot: A Discourse on Instructive Suppresion of Literature and Its Consequences

Discovering the Origin of the Idiot: A Discourse on Instructive Suppression of Literature and its Consequences


"Every banned book enlightens the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side" (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame" (Oscar Wilde)

The two above quotes speak against what I think is one of the most important issues of our generation: censorship. Unfortunately and despite the outcry of the authors above and others censorship of literature, especially in schools, persists. Censorship of literature in schools is a travesty that goes against the purpose of education and must be stopped.

According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, censoring is "examining with the intent to delete or suppress anything objectionable"

Recently in Ridgefield, Washington, a high school teacher has suggested the censorship of any literature that uses the "n" word. This is an attack at Huckleberry Finn, by Samuel Clemens, as well as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. The proponents of this idea say that with a black man in the White House, students should not read a book that has the "n" word in it 200 times (Samuels 52).

I think that this argument is absurd because the emphasis of these works is not on the words they use, but the message they send. In this case, these books aim to promote, in a large part, understanding and peace between blacks and whites. The supposed profanity in these books is used to show the reader the way things were during the time period in which each was written. In fact, during the time periods of all three of these books, the word "nigger" was used quite commonly. To deprive our studnets of these great works will deprive them of a great experience that could broaden their horizions.

The problem with most of these censors is that they are so obsessed with what they do that they don't even take the time to read the types of works they are censoring. This is a backwards practice that needs to be put to an end. Most censors, in fact, say that their main reason for censoring is due to profane language, sexually explicit material, and "anti- Christian" morals, not because of the book's message (Reasons 1).

Who are these mysterious censors? Most of them are parents in organizations like the PTA, who are easily stirred by the slightest mention of something wrong. In fact,between 2000 and 2005, parents were responsible for 1,824 challenges to books as opposed to 207 by school administrators and just 62 by teachers. That means that parents censor books 29 times more than teachers and 9 times more than school administrators (Google Graph 1).This trend shows that because teachers and administrators are around literature and are more involved in the study of it with students, they are less likely to censor it than a parent, who bases their ideas of what is good and bad by what they hear, which is often rumor.

This type of behavior on the part of censors has been recognized by the general public, as is apparent by the court case Island Trees Union Free School District Board of Education vs. Pico. This very important case showed how overzealous the censors have actually become. When three people tried to ban many works including Slaughter House Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, the court decided that there needs to be limits on what the school could actually ban (Island Trees 1& 2).

Censors have gone too far in their role, and have suggested in many states and school districts, the censorship of a very long list of classic literature. These same censors have even suggested banning a dictionary for "objectionable" words! (Books 1)

Many of the greatest authors of all time have been censored or are in danger of being censored, including: Maya Angelou, Anne Frank, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Samuel Clemens, Machiavelli, and George Orwell, amongst others (Banned Authors 1). The full list is far too long to name, and includes some of the greatest names in literature.

In my opinion, censorship hurts education immensely and contributes to close- mindedness and unneeded prejudice. I know this is true because I was once subjected to censorship on a daily basis. I was a student at a Catholic school where the practice of censorship was quite common in all things. To read such literature such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou was an offense considered punishable by isolation in the church's convent with the nuns. Some of my classmates challenged this, and began to seek out such literature on their own. Those who didn't, I realized, had a much more close-minded view of the world around them.

Another example of this destructive practice comes from a friend of mine. She is home schooled in the state of Georgia and her parents decide what she can and cannot read. Therefore, she has to find other ways of getting literature she wants to read. Since she does, she has a far more open view of the world; something that I think would not be possible if she did not challenge her parent's censorship.

In my research, I came across a website dedicated to the censorship of books. It was one of the most absurd things I have ever seen. The mission of the website was as follows:

"Our Mission is very simple. We are seeking to censor and ban books that promote godlessness, homosexuality, racism, indecency, and immoral behavior from our schools, universities, retail stores, and libraries. We want people to be able to live in decent society where they do not have to be subjected to smut in literature. We look to see bad books taken out of school curriculum so young minds do not have to be morally corrupt by immoral literature. Our main focus is to see that these kinds of books are censored in our society and not made available to everyone. They should be locked away from decent society. We use every legal means to stop the production of books that are deemed immoral, racist, and indecent and to let the world know of these kinds of books. We will not stop until these kind of books are censored or banned from society, schools, libraries, educational institutions" (Our Mission 1).

I was absolutely appalled when I found this particular passage, because the home page was covered with the names of books that are in line to be banned. This included Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, by Ray Bradbury and George Orwell, respectively. I also found it ironic that these two books that warned us of a future where books are not only banned, but burned are censored. Who decides what is deemed "unfit" for us to read, and who has that right? The answer is no one! As long as this nonsensical system of banning books based on public opinion rather than experience continues, our world will continue to become less and less a nation in the forefront of education!

Two separate reports that address both SAT and ACT scores in show that the average SAT scores in colleges have fallen for the second year in a row, and have shown the largest decline in over 31 years (Gilbert 1). The average ACT scores in 2005 fell, and at that time only 51% of students taking the ACT and college level classes can read a college level textbook. This is down from 1999, when at least 55% of students could read a college level textbook (Pytel 1).

Why is this? The answer is so obvious that a kindergartner could figure it out: we as a nation are just not reading! In fact, according to the New York Times, fewer than half of Americans over 18 read novels, short stories or plays. In addition, sales of books have diminished in all genres. In 1982 the percentage of people who read books was about 56.9. In 1992 that percentage fell to 54%, and as of 2002 the percentage was 46.7 (Weber 1). We need to read books, not ban them!
For all the time spent trying to ban books, we could be doing more important things like stopping hunger or fixing other current problems. If anything, the focus on censorship is actually causing us to lose sight of some of the issues that are far more important.

We must stop of the censors! How can we as a nation progess, if we cannot or are not allowed to read? We must not be afraid of knowledge because knowledge is power. If this injustice, nay, this travesty continues, we will be degraded to the point where reading or learning at all is considered unnecessary and we will truly discover the origin of the idiot!

Censorship of literature is like a disease that is slowly killing America from the inside out. The ways we think and learn are under attack by this ugly, lie spreading parasite, and it needs to be stomped like the bug it is. If we do not do this, I fear, we will die, a victim to its poisonous bite. Stand up against censorship and help stomp it out today before it is too late!

"Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas." (A. Whitney Griswold)

Works Cited

"Banned Authors." Banned Authors. 12 Mar. 2009 ."Books A-I That have been Censored, Banned or Challenged."
List of Banned Books (A-I). 12 Mar. 2009

"Censoring." Merrimam-Webster Online. 2009. 31 Mar. 2009 .
Gilbert, Mary. "SAT Scores Drop For Second Year In A Row." The Gate. 28 Aug. 2007. 1 Apr. 2009

"Island Trees Union Free School District Board of Education v. Pico." Island Trees Union Free School District Board of Education v. Pico. 31 Mar. 2009 .

"Our Mission." Censor The Book. 1 Apr. 2009 .Pytel, Barbara. "ACT Reading Scores Falling." Suite 101. 7 May 2006. 1 Apr. 2009

"Reasons for Challenging Books." Swivel. 3 Apr. 2009

Samuels, Allison. "Rethinking Race in the Classroom." Newsweek 9 Mar. 2009: 52-53.

Weber, Bruce. "Fewer Noses Stuck in Books in America, Survey Finds." New York Times. 8 July 04. 2 Apr. 2009 .

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