05 October 2009

The Bookburners

Last week was "Banned Books Week" - a celebration of the nonsense of censorship. But unfortunately it is Banned Books Year is most schools most of the time, as administrators, teachers, even some librarians seek to block access to information on a daily basis.

Last week a Twitter Pal told me, "You should have seen our district's librarians cheering because they got Wikipedia blocked." To which I responded, "You should have walked into each library, grabbed all those World Books and Britannicas, and set fire to them in the parking lot. Same thing."

Yes, it is the same thing.

Too many people thing book burning is about vandalism and destruction, as if what is important about a book is its physical form. But despite the emotional ties to the feel of paper and the smell of ink, that is not what books are about. Books are about the ideas, the words, the rhythms contained within. And book burning is about censoring those ideas, words, and rhythms. Hitler really didn't expect the books he burned to vanish from the earth, he wanted to make sure those under his control did not read them. This is why web filtering is book burning. The goal is to use your power to prevent those you control from accessing information.

Throughout history people have rationalised this kind of violence. Oppressors have often claimed to be "protecting" people from dangerous ideas and misinformation, or from "inappropriate" information (in 2000 the American Family Association objected to the Holland, MI public library allowing patrons to see the Catholic Information Center's website because it might "confuse" people). "Wrong" translations of The Bible have been banned or burned, so have books from Ulysses to The Origin Of Species. I'm quite sure there were more than a few British bureaucrats who'd have liked to burn Common Sense in 1775-1776.

Traveling with the Book People, a project inspired by Fahrenheit 451.

But ideas are stubborn things, and humans like to preserve our stories. Fahrenheit 451's Book People are a classic (fictional) example of this. We should not burn, nor should we filter. Our responsibility as educators - if we are educators and not enforcers - is to help frame difficult information, to present it within context, to discuss, to challenge. Censorship, book burning, filtering - this is the stuff of tyrants who cannot defend their own points of view if challenged.

So please - let's follow up "Banned Books Week" with "Banned Sites Year" - a commitment to replacing filtering with education and intelligent conversation. A year of committing to working with our students to help them figure out for themselves the value of the information in front of them.

Stop your book burning, and start teaching instead.

- Ira Socol

Teaching on Controversial Issues by Alan Shapiro
Teaching Critical Thinking by Alan Shapiro
Bud-the-Teacher's response to site blocking requests.


Steve J. Moore said...

Amen! Well-written and poignant. Thank you.

learn quran said...

Good Thoughts!Thanks for sharing.