A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit in on a school board meeting in my town. On the agenda was the adoption of some new books for the 12th grade AP English class, normally a pro-forma seal of approval to a sub-committee’s decision. Much to our surprise, one board member had strong objections about a certain book because of its graphic descriptions of adult themes. For several minutes, the discussion see-sawed between the book’s literary qualities and its disturbing scenes.
Whispers of “Censorship!” went around the crowded room, but even the most liberal-minded parents in the audience only felt a mild dismay. In this new century, the idea that we can keep our children from reading or observing anything they really want is laughable.
The best example of that is the recent upheaval in Iran. After the questionable election results and protests that followed, state-run organizations did their anticipated crackdown on foreign media. But information out of the country could not be as easily controlled as the journalists—summarily expelled from the country on mysteriously expiring visas. Like a fistful of sand, images and videos and tweets leaked through every crevice. And as authorities worked feverishly to block online access, protestors found other backdoors, aided and abetted by new-found friends in other countries. Like any other forbidden fruit, the frantic, uncontrolled, unedited, and unverified bits of information smuggled out by the beleaguered youth of one country captured the imagination of their peers the world over.
We all have memories of reading proscribed books under the covers. But there is a generational shift in the way information is disseminated and retrieved today, as sites like Twitter and Facebook and software like Freegate make it possible for anyone with a mobile phone to get taboo words (and pictures) out. This information age is the true facilitator of the ideal of freedom, whether it is of a sovereign nation or the market.
So to think that we can keep 18 year-olds from reading a book because we think it’s not appropriate, is to hold an umbrella against that tsunami. I would rather our schools gave our children the tools to process information and teach them to sift the meaningful from the dross, the revolutionary from the inflammatory, and leave their books alone.
Hey, at least they’re reading!