Monday, February 9, 2009

Who's the totalitarian here?

Last week was not a good time for intellectual freedom.

First, it was reported that in California, of all places, a county school board banned the acclaimed novel Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya from the schools after a complaint by a parent. The main reason for removing the book was "excessive vulgarity or profanity," something which, of course, a public high school student would never otherwise be exposed to. This book has been championed by, among others, that famous subversive radical Laura Bush, who named it to her "Top 10 Reading List for All Ages." Upon learning of the school board's action, Anaya commented, "We have ample evidence throughout history of what happens when we start banning books, when we are afraid of ideas and discussion and analytical thinking. The society will suffer."

Meanwhile, back here in North Carolina, the state branch of the ACLU announced it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a prison inmate named Victor Martin who had a 310-page manuscript that he was working on confiscated by prison authorities. The reason was not given, but perhaps it was because they discovered that Martin was not working on a sequel to Little House on the Prairie. Martin has written three previous novels, drawn from his own experiences, and they're evidently pretty spicy examples of "urban lit." "I decided I would spend the time I have in prison in a positive way and maybe I could influence younger readers to steer clear of the choices that I made that put me behind bars," Martin was quoted as saying.

And down in Atlanta last week, a federal appeals court gave its blessing to the Miami-Dade County School District's decision to show their opposition to totalitarianism by engaging in book-banning. The book in question is a dangerous volume for children ages 5 to 8 entitled, A Visit to Cuba. No bad words or vulgarity here -- this time the complaint was that the book gave too positive a portrayal of life in Cuba. A lower court judge had overturned the book-banning, offering the eminently sensible suggestion that instead of removing a book with one viewpoint, the schools could perhaps add other books with opposing viewpoints. Sensible solutions and the book-banning mindset, however, do not easily coexist, and the school district decided to appeal the ruling instead. Sadly, they got a 2-1 judgement in their favor, in a decision that one lawyer said managed to "twist the law into a pretzel." And Miami schoolchildren are now safe from a variety of different viewpoints about life in nearby Cuba.

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