The state should encourage a wide range of books for students
I was a teacher in Florida for many years and I fear that teachers are leaving the state because of new laws that threaten them to use “banned” words, to teach the history of “bad” way or use books that non-educators believe should be banned.
In 1964, I taught English at Key West High School. What I learned from that time remains relevant today.
My students were reading George Orwell’s “1984”, a dystopian novel about a totalitarian government, run by Big Brother, which controls the lives of citizens by limiting the use of access to information language. Big Brother even watches people through their televisions.
Orwell wrote it in 1949 in response to Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Josef Stalin’s Russia. One day, I was called to the principal’s office. Seated near the principal was a man holding a copy of “1984” in one hand and a Bible in the other.
He was a lay preacher who went out to meet other preachers to organize a movement to ban the book – and me – for using “obscene” material. He held up “1984” and shouted, “Students can read this garbage…” then he held up the Bible, “but schools aren’t allowed to teach the word of God!” »
I knew the principal had read the book, so I asked the preacher if he had read it. No, he said. He had only randomly opened it and read a scene where the two main characters were making love. To me, it was nothing obscene. Their frolic was a rebellion because they loved each other more than Big Brother. They would suffer terrible consequences later. The preacher’s response was a perfect example of misinterpreting something when taken out of context.
The principal and I told him the book was an extension of Orwell’s distaste for communist Russia. It surprised the preacher. I told him that my students, including his son (who never told him about the book) understood this context.
I invited the preacher to come to my class. But he never did. I also agreed with the preacher that the Bible should be taught in school, which calmed him down a bit. But I didn’t ask him if he feared the Bible would describe more disturbing incidents than what he had read in “1984.”
I have to compliment the preacher. He had every right to question what he thought was wrong in his son’s class, but he talked to the principal and me first and didn’t go through with his plan to get the book banned. .
I also taught “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain in Key West. It was not a bestseller when first published, and Louisa Mae Alcott, the queen of American literature in her day, hated the book. She had him banned from Massachusetts libraries “because of his dirty little incidents”. This made Twain happy.
He took out advertisements in magazines all over the country that said, “My book, ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ by Mr. Mark Twain, has been banned from Massachusetts libraries because of its dirty little incidents!”
Sales soared. Censors should take note. Alas, “Huckleberry Finn” is now banned from many public schools. This is the N-word problem, another example of what happens when something is taken out of context. Twain admired black people, but the book goes back to the days of slavery. It is clear that Twain was disgusted with the way black people were treated. And one of the main characters in the book is a black nobleman, an escaped slave who is a loving friend of Huck.
But how could Twain ignore language, what lower-class whites called blacks? In Key West, when black schools were closed and students were learning in integrated classrooms, I used Twain’s book. I asked the black students who had enrolled in my class to meet me. I asked them what they thought of the book. They finally said it would be fine and they handled it well. The white students were empathetic and the discussions interesting.
Yes, the book must be taught; this is the beginning of American literature.
Years later, in Volusia County, SE Hinton’s “Tex”, was banished from colleges for using the “name of the Lord in vain”. This time the word “god—-” was taken out of context. But when I found the book at the library, I saw a comment written in pencil at the bottom of one page: “Very good book.”
I could tell by the handwriting that the reader was a young teenager. I’m sure other people his age read it too because it was banned. But how “pretty good” the book would have been had it been discussed at school with a qualified teacher and other students.
A state government that removes books from the classroom looks like Big Brother. The government should actually require by law that parents or others who wish to ban books meet with teachers and principals before a ban is imposed, and they should not be allowed to lobby to ban a book. that they haven’t read.
Again, it’s all about context.
Skip Lowery was a teacher at State of Florida.
This story was originally published June 13, 2022 3:58 p.m.