Book censorship still relevant

As most book banning occurs in public school or neighborhood libraries, it has become somewhat of a non-issue in higher education.’

Yet, as the majority of UH students are products of the public school system, there is still relevance to educating college students about censorship. ‘

As recently as 2007, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was challenged in Round Rock for containing racial epithets. The book’s main character, Huckleberry Finn, is known to use timely language to clarify the racial divide in the slave-owning South. Finn doesn’t only focus on race relations; it also highlights the basic cruelty of the time, even among the Caucasian majority. ‘

Another frequently challenged book on the basis of race relations is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The book’s content illustrates a condemnation of racial discrimination, as much as it narrates the reality of life in a community that embraces it. ‘

This year, the American Librarian Association’s Banned Books Week ran from Sept. 26 through Saturday. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, in celebration of Banned Books Week, issued a report on banned books in Texas on its Web site, www.aclutx.org.

The report includes a list of the most frequently challenged books and includes a synopsis of each. There is also a breakdown of Texas-area banned books by school district.

Of the 3,736 challenged books from 2001 through 2008, 1,225 were called into question because of ‘sexually explicit material,’ the top reason for challenges overall. Second was ‘offensive language,’ and other reasons include unsuitability for age group, violence, homosexuality, anti-family and religious viewpoints.’

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, but minors are not included in that guarantee. Their rights seem to be the responsibility of their parents, whose governance extends to elected school boards, and through them to school and community libraries.

An almost contrived example of the dangers of censorship and ignorance took place outside of Houston at Caney Creek High School in Conroe ISD during Banned Books Week in 2006.

Alton Verm, parent of Diana Verm, protested his daughter’s assigned reading of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian polemic against the dangers of censorship, after she complained about its language.’

KTRK Channel 13 reported Alton Verm’s objections to the book included ‘talking about our firemen.’ His concerns also centered on taking God’s name in vain and scenes of burning the Bible. ‘

Fahrenheit 451 – so named for the temperature at which paper burns – tells the story of a dominant fascist state as it legislates thought, bans religion and burns most books. Firemen in the world of 451 are the people who do the burning. ‘

Verm claimed he had not read the book, but merely looked through it for objectionable material. Other students in the class took the mantle of protest in support of the book, creating a lesson in history and government, as well as English.’

Censorship of Harry Potter books by fundamentalists against witchcraft is also widespread, but so too were protests against discrimination found within the books with many ‘pureblood’ wizards prejudiced against ‘mudbloods’ and ‘muggles.”

Too frequently books are challenged by people who neither read nor understand them.’ The comedic value of the resulting ironies is only surpassed by the embarrassment of community ignorance.’

Yet, books remain the most effective way to intimately dissect the nuances of the human experience and share them with other people. Other forms of media, although more vivid, have their own limitations. ‘

Our community at UH has its roots firmly embedded in Texas, including the Texan tradition of challenging books in public schools and libraries.

We shape the future of our city and state through education. Although there is little need to focus on the banned book list at your local library or an academic institution, there may be value in doing so as a simple artifact of democracy.’

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