Censorship of Books Is a Slippery Slope and This Shouldn’t Need to Be Said

Posted by on February 17, 2018 in Books, Media & Arts with 0 Comments

By Claire S. Bernish | The Mind Unleashed

A frank discussion about free speech, censorship, and historical context might be at best overdue, at worst, too late; but, in light of a recent incident — a Minnesota public school has now removed two classic pieces of literature from its required reading list — it is grimly apparent Americans have capriciously dismissed from memory what happens after books burn.

Hint: It isn’t pretty. And if the trend continues unhindered by the vociferous outrage even the softest of censorship deserves, yet further rights on a dwindling list will evaporate.

Palliative at best, dangerous at worst, this soothing of piqued nerves in deference to presenting provocative works in a salient context fails the litmus test. For instance, summoning historical circumstances, the current political climate, and instructing topic matter as an admonishment against a return to such thinking would serve students infinitely better in awareness than shunning the rage and abject sadness, the uncomfortability, conjured by the words.

Racial epithets, replete throughout the now-flagged classics, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, made students and parents in Duluth, Minnesota, feel “uncomfortable” — thus, prompting the well-intentioned school district to retire the works to shelves, and off the obligatory course material list.


But that’s the point, scholars, academics, journalists, appreciative laypeople, and a vociferous segment of the internet contend — immersing oneself in difficult subject matter through the relatively safe vehicle of literature is supposed to be uncomfortable.

Without that intimate literary experience, the empathetic taking-on of various characters’ shoes, if you will, the brutality of history is fated to repeat in an equally unpleasant manner — its selfsame example in the very actions taken by the district.

“Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students,” Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the Duluth district, cited by the Independent, told the Twin Cities’ Pioneer Press.

In neglecting to address fundamental reasons why To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn remain unquestioned fixtures on required reading lists throughout the U.S. — despite the slurs and wholly uncomfortable subject matter — the conversation about race Cary proffers as necessary will not be candid. By instead capitulating, the Duluth school district failed its job of educating — failed to teach that history is sordidly cyclical, that it often repeats through misplaced but good intentions, and, crucially, that censorship is always a weapon. It failed the penultimate opportunity for that exact discussion.

Worse, officials neglected that censorship is contagious. To Kill a Mockingbird has already come under heavy fire, just across the border, in Wisconsin.

“The Monona Grove School District is reviewing an African-American parent [sic] request to remove the Harper Lee novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from the high school English curriculum,” local columnist and artist, Fabu, writes for Cap Times. “The request, made by Tujama and Jeannine Kameeta, cites 48 racial slurs directed at African-Americans in the book, the fact that no African-American writers are read in the same English curriculum, and the character of Atticus Finch as an example of the ‘white savior’ complex with African-Americans not portrayed as active in their own fight for freedom.

“These parents have a son in the ninth grade at Monona Grove High School. I’d like to thank them for speaking on behalf of their son, and seeking to protect him through this formal petition.”

That latter thought, protection (however well-intentioned), represents the most pervasively pernicious — read: successful — impetus for the banning of books, suppression of art, silencing of music, and censorship of information than arguably any other in the history of humankind. So perilous is the course once soft censorship begins, it should be unfathomable to educators and parents — even as an rare option.


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