Author Topic: Banning books is the dumb way to go  (Read 2606 times)

KyriakosCH

  • Alien spiral maker
    • I can help with backgrounds
    • I can help with story design
    • I can help with translating
Banning books is the dumb way to go
« on: 28 Dec 2020, 07:11 »
Apparently schools in the US (and elsewhere) ban books written "more than 70 years ago", arguing that they include racist and other corrupt ideas which will harm the children.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/even-homer-gets-mobbed-11609095872?mod=hp_opin_pos_1

Quote from: Wall Street Journal article
A sustained effort is under way to deny children access to literature. Under the slogan #DisruptTexts, critical-theory ideologues, schoolteachers and Twitter agitators are purging and propagandizing against classic texts—everything from Homer to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Dr. Seuss.

Their ethos holds that children shouldn’t have to read stories written in anything other than the present-day vernacular—especially those “in which racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate are the norm,” as young-adult novelist Padma Venkatraman writes in School Library Journal. No author is valuable enough to spare, Ms. Venkatraman instructs: “Absolving Shakespeare of responsibility by mentioning that he lived at a time when hate-ridden sentiments prevailed, risks sending a subliminal message that academic excellence outweighs hateful rhetoric.”

The subtle complexities of literature are being reduced to the crude clanking of “intersectional” power struggles. Thus Seattle English teacher Evin Shinn tweeted in 2018 that he’d “rather die” than teach “The Scarlet Letter,” unless Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel is used to “fight against misogyny and slut-shaming.”

Outsiders got a glimpse of the intensity of the #DisruptTexts campaign recently when self-described “antiracist teacher” Lorena Germán complained that many classics were written more than 70 years ago: “Think of US society before then & the values that shaped this nation afterwards. THAT is what is in those books.”

Jessica Cluess, an author of young-adult fiction, shot back: “If you think Hawthorne was on the side of the judgmental Puritans . . . then you are an absolute idiot and should not have the title of educator in your twitter bio.”

An online horde descended, accused Ms. Cluess of racism and “violence,” and demanded that Penguin Random House cancel her contract. The publisher hasn’t complied, perhaps because Ms. Cluess tweeted a ritual self-denunciation: “I take full responsibility for my unprovoked anger toward Lorena Germán. . . . I am committed to learning more about Ms. Germán’s important work with #DisruptTexts. . . . I will strive to do better.” That didn’t stop Ms. Cluess’s literary agent, Brooks Sherman, from denouncing her “racist and unacceptable” opinions and terminating their professional relationship.

The demands for censorship appear to be getting results. “Be like Odysseus and embrace the long haul to liberation (and then take the Odyssey out of your curriculum because it’s trash),” tweeted Shea Martin in June. “Hahaha,” replied Heather Levine, an English teacher at Lawrence (Mass.) High School. “Very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from the curriculum this year!” When I contacted Ms. Levine to confirm this, she replied that she found the inquiry “invasive.” The English Department chairman of Lawrence Public Schools, Richard Gorham, didn’t respond to emails.

“It’s a tragedy that this anti-intellectual movement of canceling the classics is gaining traction among educators and the mainstream publishing industry,” says science-fiction writer Jon Del Arroz, one of the rare industry voices to defend Ms. Cluess. “Erasing the history of great works only limits the ability of children to become literate.”

He’s right. If there is harm in classic literature, it comes from not teaching it. Students excused from reading foundational texts may imagine themselves lucky to get away with YA novels instead—that’s what the #DisruptTexts people want—but compared with their better-educated peers they will suffer a poverty of language and cultural reference. Worse, they won’t even know it.

Mrs. Gurdon writes the Journal’s Children’s Books column.

Literature isn't politics. If you limit what children read to "books published less than 70 years ago" you just teach something not valuable next to what others would be learning. Besides, you can't erase any notion, at best you'll block the refined expression of it and leave your students with their own means; one has to suppose the smarter ones will just dismiss your books, but they wouldn't have better models to work with.
Maybe they should also ban math stuff produced less than 70 years ago, it'd be an equally good idea.

One would do well to realize that if an idea is more valuable, it will still shine through others. Banning books cause you are afraid they may influence people is just the fear of the incompetent.
Also reminds me of the nice starting paragraph of Borges' story "The Theologians":

Quote from: J.L.Borges
After having razed the garden and profaned the chalices and altars, the Huns entered the monastery library on horseback and trampled the incomprehensible books and vituperated and burned them, perhaps fearful that the letters concealed blasphemies against their god, which was an iron scimitar.
This is the Way - A dark allegory. My Patreon!  My Youtube!

Mandle

  • NO PIXEL LEFT BEHIND!!!
    • Mandle worked on one or more games that won an AGS Award!
    •  
    • Mandle worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #1 on: 28 Dec 2020, 07:43 »
I really hope, and suspect, that this is just a clickbait article concerning some fringe idiots who will go ignored, but published for the meanwhile to stir up some outrage and views.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #2 on: 28 Dec 2020, 08:44 »

Clickbait from Wall Street Journal... who knows.

Funny thing that one of the books that could be banned in 2021 is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe... a children's favourite!  :-\

_

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #3 on: 28 Dec 2020, 13:16 »
Fail at Floaty Rog' now!  still having to deal with what games are going through

Babar

  • Creator, Mutator and Defecator
    • I can help with proof reading
    • I can help with scripting
    • I can help with story design
    • I can help with translating
    • Babar worked on one or more games that won an AGS Award!
    •  
    • Babar worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #4 on: 28 Dec 2020, 15:06 »
I don't think 'schools in the US (and elsewhere) ban books written "more than 70 years ago"' is a factual statement- apparent or not, from what little of the article I could read, or the links Khris provided.
The ultimate Professional Amateur

Now, with his very own game: Alien Time Zone

Danvzare

  • The Man with No Name
    • I can help with AGS tutoring
    • I can help with proof reading
    • I can help with scripting
    • I can help with voice acting
    • Danvzare worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #5 on: 28 Dec 2020, 15:45 »
I really hope, and suspect, that this is just a clickbait article concerning some fringe idiots who will go ignored, but published for the meanwhile to stir up some outrage and views.

9 times out of 10, stuff like this usually is just bait.  (nod)
It wouldn't surprise me if it was true though. Not that it would mean anything. I doubt any kid in the US is going to read a 70 year old book (or any book for that matter) unless they're forced to.  (laugh)

Snarky

  • Global Moderator
  • Global Moderator
  • Mittens Lord
  • Private Insultant
    • Best Innovation Award Winner 2018, for his numerous additions to the AGS open source ecosystem including the new Awards Ceremony client and modules
    • Snarky worked on one or more games that won an AGS Award!
    •  
    • Snarky worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #6 on: 28 Dec 2020, 17:05 »
"Ban" (or "deny children access to literature") seems a pretty extreme term for something that appears to be more accurately described as "exclude from the curriculum" — or, at most, "remove from the school library."

And we may agree or disagree with the arguments for and against specific books, but school reading lists have always been shaped by moral, political and didactic agendas and views about what is appropriate for children of a particular age. A hundred years ago there's no way they would give schoolchildren a book to read with the word "fuck" in it (of course, a hundred years ago it was almost impossible to have such a book printed in the first place), and it's similarly reasonable to decide today, for example, that we won't use any book with the N-word in class. Because we are influenced by what we read, children in particular.

That said, I do think schools should teach texts that reflect worldviews that differ from mainstream modern thought, both because you otherwise throw out a lot of great and culturally significant literature, and because it is important to show that people did think differently in the past, including that some prejudices were commonly accepted. And I definitely don't think you should exclude works that are in themselves unobjectionable simply because the author may have written or said other things we would find offensive. (So, for example, even if you decide against teaching The Merchant of Venice, that doesn't mean Shakespeare should be excluded from the curriculum altogether; nor should you throw out all books by Roald Dahl.)

Also, while I don't trust the WSJ to provide an unbiased summary of events, I definitely have misgivings about "cancel culture" when it goes after people who aren't "in the game" (pundits, political activists, etc.) with full force, including online harassment and threats to their careers, to punish stray comments.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #7 on: 28 Dec 2020, 18:04 »
This reminds me, some of the books of classic Russian authors (like Gogol, and probably Pushkin too, although my memories are vague on this) are today published with slight edits, for example the word for "jew" used in original text is considered a slur today, so it is often replaced with contemporary name.

KyriakosCH

  • Alien spiral maker
    • I can help with backgrounds
    • I can help with story design
    • I can help with translating
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #8 on: 28 Dec 2020, 19:19 »
Imo Gogol was one of the greatest writers of all time, and the best of the russian iron century.
Some of his stories are amazing. Particularly (of course) the Overcoat, but also the Dream of a Madman and a couple of others.
Too bad he had a Pessoa vibe and collapsed.
This is the Way - A dark allegory. My Patreon!  My Youtube!

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #9 on: 28 Dec 2020, 19:23 »
Imo Gogol was one of the greatest writers of all time, and the best of the russian iron century.

"Iron century"? Unless that's a typo, I must admit to never hear the term used in this context. In relation to literature we call it "golden age", maybe it is similar meaning?

KyriakosCH

  • Alien spiral maker
    • I can help with backgrounds
    • I can help with story design
    • I can help with translating
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #10 on: 28 Dec 2020, 19:29 »
Imo Gogol was one of the greatest writers of all time, and the best of the russian iron century.

"Iron century"? Unless that's a typo, I must admit to never hear the term used in this context. In relation to literature we call it "golden age", maybe it is similar meaning?

Just translating literally from the term used in greek. I suspected in turn that it was some french term; less likely it became an expression in 19th century Greece to contrast with the "golden century" which is the ancient name for Perikles leadership of Athens  :=
It was also a typo too, since the actual expression is "silver aeon" (αργυρούς αιών)...
« Last Edit: 28 Dec 2020, 19:31 by KyriakosCH »
This is the Way - A dark allegory. My Patreon!  My Youtube!

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #11 on: 28 Dec 2020, 23:13 »
"Ban" (or "deny children access to literature") seems a pretty extreme term for something that appears to be more accurately described as "exclude from the curriculum" — or, at most, "remove from the school library."

And we may agree or disagree with the arguments for and against specific books, but school reading lists have always been shaped by moral, political and didactic agendas and views about what is appropriate for children of a particular age. A hundred years ago there's no way they would give schoolchildren a book to read with the word "fuck" in it (of course, a hundred years ago it was almost impossible to have such a book printed in the first place), and it's similarly reasonable to decide today, for example, that we won't use any book with the N-word in class. Because we are influenced by what we read, children in particular.

That said, I do think schools should teach texts that reflect worldviews that differ from mainstream modern thought, both because you otherwise throw out a lot of great and culturally significant literature, and because it is important to show that people did think differently in the past, including that some prejudices were commonly accepted. And I definitely don't think you should exclude works that are in themselves unobjectionable simply because the author may have written or said other things we would find offensive. (So, for example, even if you decide against teaching The Merchant of Venice, that doesn't mean Shakespeare should be excluded from the curriculum altogether; nor should you throw out all books by Roald Dahl.)

Also, while I don't trust the WSJ to provide an unbiased summary of events, I definitely have misgivings about "cancel culture" when it goes after people who aren't "in the game" (pundits, political activists, etc.) with full force, including online harassment and threats to their careers, to punish stray comments.
I think that summons up my problem with these kinds of discussions perfectly.
It reminds me of Jim Sterling's video on editing versus censorship:


Ali

  • What will become of the baron?
    • Ali worked on one or more games that won an AGS Award!
    •  
    • Ali worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #12 on: 28 Dec 2020, 23:46 »
Syllabi and school libraries are limited by necessity. I think it's better to be arguing for the inclusion of a writer rather than against the inclusion of another writer. But in many cases, adding one thing means taking away another. Saying, "lets have more black writers" is no more "banning" texts than saying "no, let's keep it the same" is.

Here's one of the tweets they're talking about: https://twitter.com/nenagerman/status/1333449963401924609 It has fewer than 200 retweets.

Here's one of the other teachers, refuting the claim that she celebrated the "banning" of the Odyssey: https://twitter.com/MrsHLevine/status/1343404408684617730

Obviously, the women quoted in this article are now receiving abusive and racist messages. This is pearl-clutching at best. At worst, it casts school teachers of no particular influence as Stalinist totalitarians, and puts them in the sights of some of the most unpleasant reactionary racists on the internet.
« Last Edit: 28 Dec 2020, 23:53 by Ali »

KyriakosCH

  • Alien spiral maker
    • I can help with backgrounds
    • I can help with story design
    • I can help with translating
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #13 on: 29 Dec 2020, 05:12 »


That tweeter causes problems for people posting is nothing new, including harassment. Then again sometimes the idiocy of the original post doesn't help.



If one just wants to say something colorful, with no consequences, they should just post in a web forum about some game  ;)
« Last Edit: 29 Dec 2020, 05:37 by KyriakosCH »
This is the Way - A dark allegory. My Patreon!  My Youtube!

Ali

  • What will become of the baron?
    • Ali worked on one or more games that won an AGS Award!
    •  
    • Ali worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #14 on: 29 Dec 2020, 10:18 »
Okay, so are we saying that "cancel culture" is acceptable when educators are abused for de-contectualised tweets that got 3 likes, but unacceptable when educators try to influence the curriculum they teach?

The Odyssey wasn't on the curriculum when I went to school (but I have read it because it wasn't banned). I don't see why removing it should scandalise anyone.
« Last Edit: 29 Dec 2020, 10:43 by Ali »

KyriakosCH

  • Alien spiral maker
    • I can help with backgrounds
    • I can help with story design
    • I can help with translating
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #15 on: 29 Dec 2020, 11:32 »
I think it is not very good if one is a teacher, to say nonsense of the kind "I'd rather die before teaching Homer (or Shakespeare) again!".
Tbh, anyone so clueless about the text would be doing more harm "teaching" it. I do suspect this is what it's about, though - namely that those teachers are just not able to do what they are paid to do, so opt for some lame text they think they can grasp instead. But it's really terrible to be proud of being bad at your work, or mask that as something supposedly positive. Maybe the myth of the fox and the grapes, by Aesop, should be banned too; it's not that the fox can't reach the high grapes, they must be sour.
Obviously those works they don't want to teach will stay important long after these teachers have shuffled off this mortal coil.
This is the Way - A dark allegory. My Patreon!  My Youtube!

Ali

  • What will become of the baron?
    • Ali worked on one or more games that won an AGS Award!
    •  
    • Ali worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #16 on: 29 Dec 2020, 12:10 »
I'm not aware of anyone flatly refusing to teach Shakespeare or Homer because they're too stupid or too bored, or because they want to replace it with something 'lame'. It's insulting for you to insist on that, and it's bizarre that you keep repeating the article's false assertion that classics are being banned. You seem to be deliberately ignoring what the people you disagree with have actually written.

We can all get nice and cross about imaginary scenarios that upset us, but whipping up anger against real people over utter flim-flam is dangerous.

Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #17 on: 29 Dec 2020, 12:39 »
The Odyssey is hardly on the curriculum in Norway either, but the pupils are taught some things about the contents of the work. A discussion such as this is fruitless if there is no context. What age group are we taling about, and what country? I guess that Greek children ought to know more about the Odyssey than others - it's part of their national/historical heritage to a greater degree than in other parts of the world.

My view is that young pupils should get text they may enjoy and understand, in order to teach them reading and hopefully give them a good experience. Then they should gradually be introduced to more complexity. The goal shouldn't be that they like everything, but that they know that it exists and can make an informed choice when they are of age. Let's face it, reading the classics in old language editions are for the specially interested.

KyriakosCH

  • Alien spiral maker
    • I can help with backgrounds
    • I can help with story design
    • I can help with translating
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #18 on: 29 Dec 2020, 13:10 »
I'm not aware of anyone flatly refusing to teach Shakespeare or Homer because they're too stupid or too bored, or because they want to replace it with something 'lame'. It's insulting for you to insist on that, and it's bizarre that you keep repeating the article's false assertion that classics are being banned. You seem to be deliberately ignoring what the people you disagree with have actually written.

We can all get nice and cross about imaginary scenarios that upset us, but whipping up anger against real people over utter flim-flam is dangerous.

Hey, I am sometimes a little theatrical in my web posting. But it's part of the point: we are discussing this in a web forum, we aren't making announcements on twitter nor are we using our job titles linked to the announcement. Different scope and responsibility, surely?  :)

@Heltenjon: yes, although one has to suppose that the Odyssey has a place in any literature class; they don't need to present the entire work (actually we didn't get the whole epic poem presented to us either when in the first year of highschool; actually I think it's "middleschool" in the US; when we were 13).
« Last Edit: 29 Dec 2020, 13:14 by KyriakosCH »
This is the Way - A dark allegory. My Patreon!  My Youtube!

Ali

  • What will become of the baron?
    • Ali worked on one or more games that won an AGS Award!
    •  
    • Ali worked on one or more games that was nominated for an AGS Award!
Re: Banning books is the dumb way to go
« Reply #19 on: 29 Dec 2020, 13:51 »
I don't see how posting on a forum is any different to tweeting from an account with relatively few followers to very little engagement. Even if the teachers had behaved irresponsibly (they haven't), digging up the tweets of people with no profile and publishing them in a national newspaper can be ethically troubling even when the content of the tweets is genuinely disturbing.

To be clear, the Odyssey could have a place in any literature class, but it definitely does not have a place on lots of curriculums. This is an absurd and calculated overreaction from anti-intellectual conservatives.