Censorship is a poor way to increase literacy


Obviously, some books are better than others. This is something everyone should understand. Well-written books that address profound themes are far more likely to withstand the challenges of time than poorly written books that deal with superficial topics.

For example, Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” is a literary classic. That’s because it portrays the reality of pre-Civil War slavery in the South in a way that most other books don’t. You cannot read the book without being deeply impressed by the injustice of slavery.

However, “huckleberry fins” also contain inappropriate words, such as very offensive racist terms. As a result, some educators believe that this book should not be stored in the school library or used in the classroom. That would be a mistake.

The problem with judging past authors by today’s cultural standards is that virtually no one measures them. Such that this replaces classical literature among progressive educators with modern books written by authors who, at least by today’s standards, support the “correct” ideology using the “correct” language. That’s why it has a driving force.

The authors of this century simply wonder if they will measure whatever the general idealism is, centuries from now.

For example, at a recent meeting of the Waterloo Regional Board of Education, a human resources and equity supervisor announced that the committee was reviewing all the books in the school library. According to the director, the library is not deleting “inappropriate” books fast enough.

“We recognize that there is a growing awareness of equality, oppressive work and anti-racist work. Some of the texts in our collection are not appropriate at this time. I’m aware that there isn’t, “said the director.

This phrase is not only typical of Gibberish, which is often spewed out at school board meetings, but also reveals a lack of deep understanding of what education is. The idea that some books have to be censored because they no longer comply with modern cultural standards is the exact opposite of helping students become critical readers and thinkers.

Only by exposing students to different perspectives can we help them get a good education. In reality, students will come across ideas that challenge their core beliefs, whether we want them or not. The only question is whether you want them to work on challenging concepts while in the classroom, or do you think it’s better to try to understand things yourself after graduating from school?

In addition, there is a difference between weeding out books in the library for space and deleting books because they may contain offensive material. Obviously, the library has limited space and it makes sense to delete books that no one has read. On the other hand, good books such as “Huckleberry Finn” are hard to remove just because they contain offensive language or reflect outdated cultural norms.

This does not mean that the school library should be the place where something goes. Young students need to make books with sexual content graphics inaccessible. Also, school libraries should not be expected to stock books that blatantly promote false information, such as the work of prominent Holocaust denials.

Unfortunately, censorship is becoming more and more common in schools. For example, there has been a long-standing collaborative campaign to remove Dr. Seuss’s books from school libraries and classrooms. This is because these books contain images and statements that are clearly inappropriate by modern standards.

But a better approach is to use these books as an opportunity for a moment to be taught. Students should not only have access to classical literature, but should also be expected to study and critique it. When students work on challenging concepts, it is best to read the literature that has endured the challenges of time and work with effective teacher guidance.

Hopefully, school trustees will begin to oppose awakened idealism that undermines the education of our children. There is a good literary world for students to explore. Let’s not protect our children from reality.

Censorship is a poor way to increase literacy. If you want your students to be good readers and thinkers, they need to read quality literature, such as books that challenge their thinking.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwagstra


Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, senior fellow of the Frontier Center for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”