Warm Southern Breeze

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Dumbing Down Our Kids: Censorship is Alive and Well

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, August 15, 2021

Many make the mistake thinking that anti-censorship laws – the First Amendment, most notably – apply to business. They do not. Anti-censorship laws apply ONLY to government.

Instances of such mistaken thought have been on display of late, particularly with respect to some of the foolish remarks made by certain Congressional Representatives, and Senators, while in Committee hearings with the CEOs of Twitter and Facebook pursuant to their banning, or temporarily blocking certain high profile users of their service in the dissemination of lies, which were not merely false, but disruptive, tended toward incivility, and inciting public unrest.

Censorship is sometimes called “prior restraint,” because it prohibits an action, in this case, speech or other First Amendment rights, from occurring, or being exercised. It is not done after the fact. It is ALWAYS done beforehand.

But, with respect to private enterprise, non-governmental entities, businesses and such, they are free to their heart’s delight to censor. There is NO LAW prohibiting them from exercising that prerogative.

On May 10, 1933, university students in Opera Square in Berlin and elsewhere throughout Nazi Germany burned thousands of books in an ominous cleansing of anything considered un-German from the national culture. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Archives and Records)

When it comes to matters of education, the ideological equivalent to censorship is banning books, and book burning – both practices which have historically been employed by authoritarian, totalitarian regimes, and not just in modernity.

Historians of the Ancient world in the Near East know of and study the destruction of Ninevah, and one of the world’s first libraries, thought to have been burned because it was part of the royal palace complex. As the capitol city of the Assyrians, a hated, though powerful, people, incessant warfare by that nation contributed significantly to its downfall, and the Medes and Persians ended Assyrian domination in the Middle Eastern region. Scholars estimate that over 12,000 texts were destroyed, though some have been recovered by archaeological work.

Perhaps the most well-known example of book burning was the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, in ancient Egypt. Some estimates suppose the number of volumes of works burned in the library which endured through Roman imperial times, to after the emergence of Christianity as a state religion circa 4th century CE, to be between 400,000 and 900,000. A significant part of the reasoning behind its destruction was with Egyptian Christians, long known as extremist radical zealots, who brutally murdered Hypatia (c.360 CE-415 CE), a renown female philosopher, the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer of the day, and Alexandrian resident.

Following Hypatia’s murder and the destruction of the temple of Serapis, radical Christians turned their anger toward destruction of the Museion, the House of Muses, which was part of the Library of Alexandria, and in that process, burned many library texts. Some claim that it was burned following the Muslim conquest of Alexandria in the 7th century, but there is no evidence to support the notion that Caliph Omar had any role in its 641 CE burning.

The United States does not escape such history. Throughout our nation’s history, books, recordings, and other publications considered “inappropriate,” “pornographic,” “subversive,” or somehow “evil” or contrarian to orthodoxy, religion, or government, have been destroyed by radical groups, often radicalized Christians. Radical Christians have burned recordings made by Elvis Presley, The Beatles, KISS, and others. They have also burned books similarly thought heretical, or otherwise subversive.

A partial listing, and rankings, through the American Library Association of the 100 works and books most often thought subversive, and banned from 2010-2019 include:
2.) Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
8.) Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
10.) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
12.) Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
15.) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
26.) A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
28.) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
29.) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
33.) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
40.) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
45.) Beloved by Toni Morrison
49.) The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
50.) The Color Purple by Alice Walker
52.) The Holy Bible
62.) Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
73.) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
79.) 1984 by George Orwell
80.) A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
88.) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

In 1952, author Ray Bradbury published a novel entitled “Fahrenheit 451,” so named for “the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns.” The book’s dystopian futuristic premise is one in which “firemen,” as agents of the state, actually set fire to books and other materials thought objectionable by the authoritarian, totalitarian government of the day. No books were allowed to exist. In an interview with NBC Radio News December 4, 1956, Bradbury said in part that,“I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country four years ago. Too many people were afraid of their shadows; there was a threat of book burning. Many of the books were being taken off the shelves at that time.”

The American Library Association sponsors a week-long celebration of the First Amendment, and reflection of authoritarian efforts to prohibit books from being read by school children by banning them, which is called, appropriately enough, “Banned Books Week.” This year, 2021, it, along with celebrating the freedom to read, will be celebrated Sunday, September 26 — Saturday, October 2, 2021.

This year’s theme is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”

“Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

The following entry is reposted from Diane Ravitch’s Blog, “a historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University.”

Chicago Public Schools was first to ban the popular graphic novel “Persepolis,” in 2013.

The book has sold millions of copies. The author, Marjane Satrapi, was born in Iran and used the book to tell her story. Chicago school officials decided to pull the book from classrooms and school libraries, after receiving complaints that the book was not “age-appropriate.” The officials saw two pages that circulated among them. There is no indication that any of them actually read the book. The Superintendent at the time was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was subsequently sent to prison for accepting bribes to buy services from vendors.

A graduate student asked for copies of internal emails about the decision to remove the book:

News of the ban broke on March 14, 2013, when a local education blogger got hold of an email from the principal of Lane Tech College Prep High School which informed teachers and staff that he had been directed in no uncertain terms to collect all copies of Persepolis from the school’s library and classrooms. He was given no explanation for the sudden purge, he said.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett started backpedaling later that day, after teachers and students raised objections and local media began asking questions. Byrd-Bennett revised the directive in another email to principals, saying that “we are not requesting that you remove Persepolis from your central school library.” But the book was still banned from seventh grade classrooms and “under review” for use in eighth through tenth grades. Teachers of college-level AP classes for 11th and 12th grade students would be allowed to retain the book in their curricula.

Unsurprisingly, Byrd-Bennett’s “clarification” did little to assuage the concerns of teachers and especially students, who organized a demonstration outside Lane Tech on March 15. By then, CPS was receiving national press coverage and stern rebukes from free speech groups, including CBLDF through the NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project. In response to the growing furor, district spokesperson Becky Carroll claimed that “the message got lost in translation, but the bottom line is, we never sent out a directive to ban the book…. We’re not saying remove these from buildings altogether.”

Professor Dr. Allan Singer, PhD, Chair, and Professor of Teaching, Learning and Technology, and the director of social studies education programs at Hofstra College in New York, wrote at Daily Kos about the recent decision by the Commack School Board to ban Persepolis.

He writes, in part:

The city of Persepolis was founded by Persian Emperor Darius I in 518 B.C. as a religious center and the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great and Greek armies about 330 B.C. and the city was burned. Today its ruins are located in southwestern Iran and are considered one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites.

Persepolis lived again in the graphic arts book Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon Graphic Library 2004) by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi was born in Iran and grew up in the current capital city, Tehran. Her parents were leftwing political activists and after the 1979 Islamic revolution they arranged for her to move to Vienna, Austria when she was fourteen. She later returned to Iran where she studied Visual Communication and earned a Master’s Degree from Islamic Azad University in Tehran. At the age of 24, Satrapi left Iran to live in France.

Her black-and-white 341-page graphic novel Persepolis is autobiographical and recounts Satrapi’s experiences from age six to fourteen, including surviving a missile attack and learning about torture. The New York Times named it a Notable Book and Time Magazinecalled it the “Best Comix of the Year” for 2004.

Because the book includes a realistic pictorial depiction of torture and as part of the new rightwing assault on multiculturalism and anything that even suggests association with critical race theory, Persepolis is under attack and its educational supporters are threatened with retribution. At a recent Commack, New York school board meeting high school students and alumni protested against the removal of the book from 11th grade English classes. It has been an assigned text for more than a decade. Students from Islamic and South Asian backgrounds pointed out that it is the only place that someone like them appears in the entire 7-12 English Language Arts curriculum. Speakers who were also attacking Critical Race Theory demanded that Persepolis be dropped as “pornographic.”

If you want to learn more about the censorship of textbooks and books used in schools, read Diane Ravitch’s book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf).

dianeravitch | August 15, 2021 at 10:00 am | Categories: Education Reform | URL: https://wp.me/p2odLa-uyO

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