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September 26, 2003

Freedom to Read, Freedom Not to Read

A school board in Texas opts not to remove Aldous Huxley's Brave New World or Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land from a school's 10th grade Advanced Placement curriculum. However, it has instituted the policy that there must be an alternative available to a book that's been challenged. One of the afflicted students explains:

Sophomore Heather Outland said she found the books to be pornographic and offensive.
I dont feel that I should be carrying them around, much less be forced to read them, Outland said. I believe in the freedom to read. But I also believe in the freedom not to read. I dont want to be forced to read these books if they go against my values and the values of the community. This is not censorship, this is not banning. This is freedom.

Ah yes, freedom. Freedom to be illiterate, freedom to be uneducated, freedom to be ill-equipped to understand or discuss cultural or literary references because your values are offended. Reading a book doesn't automatically pose a danger to your values. Maybe the book forces you to think, to examine your beliefs. Maybe some ideas will change your mind. Maybe they won't. But how will you know, Heather, if you don't read the book? If your values are so desperately at risk just from reading a book, then how firm are your beliefs anyway?

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Yours, &c., LC | 04:39 PM | Legal , Librariana | Comments (8) | TrackBack (1)

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? Aldous Huxley, Pornographer from Sick & Wicked: A Writer's Weblog
Over at Lady Crumpet's place she mentioned a dustup with a school board who took Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New... [Read More]

Tracked on October 2, 2003 11:30 AM


On behalf of Heather, I would like to speak. I have known Heather for many years and am very qualified to comment on the article. Would you let your 14 year old go into an R-rated movie? Would you let her read Playboy magazine? Would you allow her to hang out in a bar? I highly doubt you would, yet themes and, more importantly, details from all these sources were in these books.

To take these books off _required_ reading lists would not be condemning society to ignorance, for those that wish to read them still may. They would still be open to those who wanted them in libraries and in suggested reading by a teacher. Fourteen year olds would simply not be forced to read them. Heather and I have both read the books twice and found them to be vulgar and reminiscent of something from a racy movie. The idea of dystopias presented in these books were also found in another book we had to read over the summer - Childhood's End. We both found this book to be a very thought-provoking book without the unnecessary lewd content.

As a note, Heather is well-read and is on track to graduate Salutatorian of the eighth best school in the nation (just thought you might want to know).

Posted by: Heather's friend at September 29, 2003 09:03 PM

It's really interesting to see how inventive people get upon the challenge of education. And I find it quite amusing when "Brave New World" is made line up with Play*boy or r-rated movies.

A book has letters in it, the message is revealed through reading and processing. That is a totally different thing compared to the other 2 examples mentioned, where primarily basic instincts are addressed through pictures. Also, despite the vulgarness...the intention is a totally different. Go and read the books a third time.

Taking classics off reading lists comes close to book banning and it is a form of ignorance and mind molding. Dealing with such reads however enrichens the mental horizon and challenges thought and awareness. A mind of one's own. Critique can only grow from knowing what one is talking about, and that means facing the fact.
I can only critque the Play*boy after I've had a look into it. Likewise r-rated movies. Freedom comes upon making up one's mind, but it requires dealing with a subject first.

Last but not least. The lecture of these books happens within the scope of a class. Under supervision. And you compare it to things one would a 14 yr. old let (not) do on their own. That is just confusing parameters and makes the comparison void and silly.

Lady C.'s arguments just speak my mind.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. at September 30, 2003 04:23 AM

i am now inspired to reread these books... it's been a long time and honestly i don't remember the stories very well. i do however remember that i liked them.

and just a wee side note: i never enjoyed reading until i was forced to read Lord of the Flies and The Catcher in the Rye in high school.

Thank you for not banning them!

Posted by: marco at September 30, 2003 08:08 AM

To "Heather's friend" - You read them twice? Couldn't have hurt too bad. On the other hand, if you see no difference in the ideas present in "Childhood's End" and the Huxley and Heinlein books, you really do need to read them again.

Like it or not, education is not entertainment. Being confronted with ideas you do not like is part of it. Try it some time.

Posted by: Scott at September 30, 2003 09:22 AM

Although I've set up my comments so that people can post freely without leaving their information, your defense of Heather would be a little more meaningful if you at least provided your name or your email address. At least Heather was willing to put her name out there in public, which is braver than either of us.

At any rate, I disagree. By being required to read a book and then discuss it in a formal setting with an instructor, people can have the chance to air their views, voice their objections, to really talk about the work in a meaningful fashion. It's not that meaningful intellectual discussion can't happen outside of class, but the class provides an opportunity that many people don't otherwise take on their own. Maybe, as you've determined, the "lewdness" overrides the overall point of the novel, perhaps detracts from its literary merit. But at least you've read the book and can draw that conclusion for yourself.

This case is different from typical censorship challenges because the books in question aren't being removed completely, but removed as required reading. I have more of a dispute with challenges that involve removing a book from a library altogether.

There's no merit in comparing letting a 14-year-old go to a bar versus the same person reading Playboy or seeing an R-rated movie. Yes, children shouldn't be in bars and they shouldn't be "reading" Playboy. If these issues came up, I'd have to deal with them as a parent, using my authority to state that these items or activities are unacceptable. And yes, parental supervision is a form of censorship but we generally agree that this is a good thing. It's when this parental authority spills over to telling other parents what their kids should and shouldn't read that I take offense.

However, if I thought my 14-year-old was intelligent and mature enough, I would let her see an R-rated movie. I'd be there with her and we'd talk about the film afterwards. Americans are awfully squeamish about anything to do with sex, but at least that's something that can be talked about, if people had the nerve to do so. I'd be more upset about all the violence in a film, and I would take the opportunity to talk about what I liked, what I didn't like, what worked and what didn't in the movie. And I would ask my child to tell me her thoughts about what she saw, interjecting as a parent where it seemed necessary.

Posted by: LadyCrumpet at September 30, 2003 09:36 AM

I suspect that the number of 14-year-olds who have seen R-rated movies is staggeringly high, if only due to the overwhelming success of the (R-rated) Matrix franchise (not to mention HBO and it's ilk).

On the other hand, I wouldn't want a 14-year-old to see A Clockwork Orange.

As the eloquent Lady Crumpet has pointed out, Brave New World, Stranger in A Strange Land, and Childhood's End are profoundly different books. Brave New World is the only one of the three that really merits the 'dystopic' label; Stranger is a Christ story, and Childhood's End contemplates what, if any, are the limits to human evolution.

Posted by: Frankenstein at September 30, 2003 03:46 PM

FYI...The books that were on this reading list were required reading for the summer and as yet no class discussion has taken place. So far these students have read these books with no opportunity to "discuss it in a formal setting with an instructor."

Posted by: Heather's Aunt at September 30, 2003 07:43 PM

Ok, I think it's time to close this thread before we start to get comments from Heather's doctor, spiritual advisor, grocery bagger or her kitchen sink.

Enough has been said on both sides. Clearly we disagree and we'll have to leave it there.

Posted by: LadyCrumpet at October 1, 2003 08:04 AM