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Banning Books

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I went to a selective private high school, and the greatest emphasis was on academics with particular attention paid to writing. Obviously, the English department was considered the most important and contained the best teachers. I still read the weekly school newspaper, the only weekly high school newspaper in the state. Last week, an anonymous parent of a sophomore sent out a letter to all the other sophomore parents asserting that the book "Plainsong" be taken out of the sophomore English curriculum because it contained several relatively graphic scenes of a sexual nature. When I was a junior, a parent wanted "Huck Finn" taken out. I was amazed then, and I am now.

Art is art. We don't get to decide what is fit for art, nor do we get to decide what is appropriate for an entire audience. If they got rid of "Plainsong" because of the sex scenes, then they'd have to get rid of shakespeare. They'd have to toss out Homer because not only is there sex, there's violence, so toss out Sophocles too. In fact, get rid of everything Greek. And Virgil too. Then toss out "Huck Finn," the seminal work of American literature, the first serious American work to have any kind of impact on the world stage, toss it out because it's racist (and forget abotu placing writing in context). And Faulkner meets all three criteria. Then get rid of "Catch-22" because it's subversive; "Lord of the Flies" and "Catcher in the Rye" too. And let's just burn "Small World." In fact, get rid of the satire class altogether. Then head down to the library and put Kerouac in the shredder and toss Ginsberg out the window right next to Ferlinghetti and Borroughs . And at this school, this Catholic school, take a close look at the Bible, get a big black marker, and start redacting. So much for the Song of Songs. We can keep the puerile, the ordinary, the mediocre, image poets, the high modernists, the form and not the content, and the plays of Thorton Wilder.

Just like history, just like science, we don't get to decide what is OK and what is not for academic study. There can be no intellectualism if we a priori determine what has value and what does not.

I applaud the department for holding firm, and keeping "Plainsong" and "Huck Finn" in the curriculum.

Are any others the would-be vicitims of literary gestapo?
 
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sissybecky

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The problem is, someone has to decide what is OK and what is not in the case of art and literature. Is Borroughs (William, not Edger) just the insane ramblings of a Heroin Junkie, or is he a seminal writer that helped lauch the beat movement? What about Hunter S Thompson? Robert Anton Wilson?

With Science, we can apply the tools of reason, mathematics and observation to determine what is truth. With history, less so. With Art and Lit? It's purely subjective.

A judge or politician said once: "I can't define smut, but I know it when I see it." And herein lies the problem. An even bigger problem is the fact that some art challenges both viewer and convention.

All that said, if a piece of content contains content that is "bad", censoring it does NOTHING, except make it more desirable to read the content by the same people it tries to protect. The way you counter speech which you consider inappropriate is by speaking about it, not by trying to suppress it.

Besides, I'll bet that 90% of the student body at that school see FAR smuttier content on the TV every night. Usually trying to tell them booze.
 
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Are any others the would-be vicitims of literary gestapo?
Yes. Knowingly or not, we all suffer when local morality/obscenity clauses erode our ability to examine a non-exploitative work and make the art/obscenity call for ourselves. I quite agree with your statement regarding acting on a priori determination; so much so that I demand and relish the experience if it's available. For example, something you cannot see in art books (and that surprised me) is that up close, some of the more frantic works have a considerable amount of texture from the oil paint; so much so that it's like looking at colored "stiff-peak" meringue.

A judge or politician said once: "I can't define smut, but I know it when I see it." And herein lies the problem. An even bigger problem is the fact that some art challenges both viewer and convention.
I think you're thinking of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. The quote, "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it," is typically ascribed to his ruling in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964).
 
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Sissy Becky, the judge you are thinking of was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. And that standard has become less a law then a problem to overcome when working with obscenity laws. I prefer another judge, San Francisco Judge Clayton Horn, who heard a case brought by the US Customs Bureau against Lawrence Ferlinghetti who published "Howl and Other Poems" by Allen Ginsberg, possibly the greatest poet of the twentieth century and a founding member of the Beat Movement whose writing and personal life became the first inklings of the hippy movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The poem dealt with drugs, alcoholism, insanity, the violence of the state, sex, and homosexuality. Judge Horn proclaimed that the only thing obsence in the case was the action the government had taken. He famously decided that Howl had "redeeming social importance." I prefer that as a standard of obscenity.
 
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Falkio

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The reason I own and enjoy so many American classic books is because of the subversive nature of public education. Freedom of press grants us the right to publish and explore literature, yet we are denied total exercise of this right in school. Catcher in the Rye is a fantastic book, but says, "goddamn" so many times its been deemed inappropriate. Parents should be given the right to decide what their kids read. If they can produce a note, then they can check out whatever book is in question. I believe literature is the most important humanity; it is how we express ourselves and record our progress as a species.

For anyone who has read Fahrenheit 451, we see where hedonism gets us. The society who bans books is tried by fire; but moreover, the knowledge in the books they burned could have saved them. If any child wants to read, let them. Why stop it? Kids don't read enough anymore. This is just another form of control and censorship - something our government is good at.
 

sissybecky

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Wow.. Thanks for clearing that up guys (and I agree with Horns ruling as well.)

Sex and Drugs are far easier to censor, then to actually have an honest conversation with your child about. I am pretty sure that is some of the hidden motivation for cases like this.
 

tenlet

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Wow.. Thanks for clearing that up guys (and I agree with Horns ruling as well.)

Sex and Drugs are far easier to censor, then to actually have an honest conversation with your child about. I am pretty sure that is some of the hidden motivation for cases like this.
Yes, I believe that is the unfortunate motivation sometimes.
 

Peachy

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Only in America...

really, what say do the parents have in what should be in a school library? It's the state's school, not the parents', so the state should decide on that. Oh, wait, you said "private" high school. Guess you're out of luck there.

Anyway, censorship is not allowed by our constitution, and as long as the book isn't sexual in nature or otherwise poses a direct threat to the natural development of the students, the books will remain in the library.

Peachy
 
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It may be a private school, and that may give the parents more leeway, but the school is actually owned by the Jesuit Missouri Provincial. I'd rather put my trust in teachers, trained, edcuated professionals, than the handful of parents who manage to shout the loudest. And the standard is not whether the book is sexual, but if it is obscene. And who better to judge that than English teachers? And who better the judge what is the natural development of a child than someone with a degree in education?
 
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Falkio

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I don't mean that parents should determine what is available in the library, but if their child should be granted access to it. And I do agree! If parents ran our schools, things would be a complicated beauracracy. Teachers are trained to educate, and therefore know best.

Never let a politician fight a general's war...
 
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That's a tough needle to thread, and I honestly don't know exactly how to counter it. In this instance, when the prent who wrote the letter suggested that students have the option of an alternative assignment, the department decided that by sending your child to school, parents in effect agreed to follow the curriculum as it was laid out. No alternative assignments, and should a student not do the assignment, even for this reason, their grade would be penalized. They drew a comparison with the required theology courses (all eight semesters). A non-Catholic student (like myself) agreed to attend all classes, even on Catholic theology, when they accepted an offer of admission.
 

teddy564339

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It may be a private school, and that may give the parents more leeway, but the school is actually owned by the Jesuit Missouri Provincial. I'd rather put my trust in teachers, trained, edcuated professionals, than the handful of parents who manage to shout the loudest. And the standard is not whether the book is sexual, but if it is obscene. And who better to judge that than English teachers?
I think what makes the situation so sticky is the fact that the parents are paying money for their child to go to this particular school and they may not be happy with the result that comes from it. I'll be honest that I don't know much about private school, but I would imagine that if a parent is paying for their child to go somewhere, they really want to be happy with the result of what their money is getting. It unfortunately becomes more of a business situation instead of an education one....and it's much easier to try to get the school to make the change instead of having to pull their kid out of the school and find somewhere else.

I didn't read the letter the parent wrote, but I would imagine that the parent was under the impression that other parents didn't know of the nature of the book's content and wanted to let other parents know about it.

And who better the judge what is the natural development of a child than someone with a degree in education?
That might be the person who gave birth to the child, raised him or her, and has the right to decide how the child is educated. Granted, teachers may know more about all children in general, but my guess is most parents know their own kids better than teachers do.

And I think that's the major issue with a lot of book banning...it's not so much the content that's the problem as it is WHEN the child is exposed to it. Not every child develops at the same rate, at the same time, and in the same way. Most bannings that I've heard of are just a ban for children of a certain age, not a blanket ban on everyone.


And that goes back to why this issue is so sticky...it's not just which books are available in a bookstore. When you hear about book bannings, it's almost always in a school. These are places where either taxpayer's money goes or parents' money goes directly to, and it also concerns minors. You can argue the issue from an intellectual and artistic standpoint, but the reality of the situation sometimes keeps that from having total merit.




When I see something like this, I'm at first inclined to agree with all of your points. But before I make a definitive decision, I imagine what I would feel like if I was in a parent's shoes. If I was paying money to a school and they were teaching my child something that I didn't want taught to my child, I doubt I would say "Oh, the teachers are the experts and my opinion doesn't matter, so I'll let them carry on." That's what makes the situation more complicated for me.
 

redtails

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As Peachy suggested, I honestly do not see the link between a child's parents and the secondary school's library. Where I come from, people honestly do not care about these kind of things. If a child does not get to see the truth from books, it will see it from another source. There's actually a proverb in my language perfectly defining what is happening in your secondary school, it states "drying with the faucet running".

No matter how much effort one puts into nicely censoring the world for our children, they will get to see reality at one point.
 

dogboy

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Catcher in the Rye is banned in most if not all public schools because Holden, towards the end of the book says, and I love this quote, "I suppose someday someone will write fuck you on my headstone". Parents hate the f word. I think the danger in society appears when public libraries start banning books. In a library, everyone has the choice and the right to select what they want to read, or not read. When someone else imposes their will on us, and tells us what we can and can not read, then we no longer live in a free society.

I can remember vividly the old film footage of Nazi Germany during the book burnings. Isn't it incredible that books can be as big a danger to governments as guns? Words are our weapons, or cares and concerns on this site. What we do is pose ideas, and respond. I love being on this site because I get a chance to honestly express myself. Where else in society could I do that? If our site was banned and blocked by our government, I would indeed be upset.

If you are in a school, you have to suffer their rules and attitudes. But you have every right to defend your opinions. That has been a time honored tradition of students through all generations. I had a French teacher who took both Catcher and Huck Finn out of our high school library. At the time I thought he was an idiot. Now that I'm much older, I know he was an idiot.
 

Fire2box

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A really good book on this topic is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury it was pretty interesting read, but I got the sense that the author was kinda full of himself.
Fahrenheit 451 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
DAMN you.... I was going to talk about that!!!!

Anyways the book of is outstanding, the movie is "meh" plus its a really cheesy 1960's/1970's movie. It should be remade!

Anyways at my school one of the teachers had her own personal library, she had some books that contained some "bad" material. One was this collection of novels by Steven King in which was the novel Apt Pupil. I won't go into the plot of that book but there was a dream in the book where the main character was raping a girl and it was VERY graphic. After I was finished reading it I took it back to her and told her that I don't think she should lend that one out anymore.

However, I think books such as The Catcher In The Rye are perfectly fine, they may contain "Fuck" and other bad words. But any kid who is willing to read that book most likely already knows every bad/offensive word in there. (Also I didn't like The Catcher in the Rye that much. Specifically the way how it ends. Though it was still more entertaining then say "all quite on the western front")
 

Trevor

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Catcher in the Rye is banned in most if not all public schools because Holden, towards the end of the book says, and I love this quote, "I suppose someday someone will write fuck you on my headstone". Parents hate the f word.
I know you didn't mean all parents everywhere, but I was pleased to remember in reading this that it was my mother who gave me this book to read when I was in my teens. She does hate the word "fuck", though. I slipped and said it in front of her once when I was sixteen or so and she was horrified, but that doesn't extend to a ban on profanity in art.
 

dogboy

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Haha...yeah, I suppose most parents don't want to hear their kids using the "F" word. I used it in front of my mom once and got slapped across the face, but that was a different time. Of course, growing up in New Jersey, I swore like a sailor. In New Jersey, the "F" word always follows the word the. haha
 

Fire2box

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Haha...yeah, I suppose most parents don't want to hear their kids using the "F" word. I used it in front of my mom once and got slapped across the face, but that was a different time. Of course, growing up in New Jersey, I swore like a sailor. In New Jersey, the "F" word always follows the word the. haha
that explains the constant R ratings and "Fucks" in Kevin Smith movies then. There was even a "Fuck" in "Jersey Girl".
 
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A really good book on this topic is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury it was pretty interesting read, but I got the sense that the author was kinda full of himself.
Fahrenheit 451 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The biggest irony about this novel is that it's subject matter is about the banning/outlawing of books. For itself to be banned is hilariously ignorant and blind on the behalf of those who had it banned.
 
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