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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Intellectual freedom: American novelist Toni Morrison's view

Friend Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee points me to American novelist (and literary laureate) Toni Morrison's comments on censorship quoted by Alison Flood in The Guardian (5 June 2009):
Just a few weeks after one of her own books was removed from a high school curriculum, Toni Morrison has spoken out against censorship and about the importance – the "sacredness" – of access to books.
Apparently, parents had complained about "sexual and violent content."

My own view is that teachers and school librarians are professionals, and - when not obviously guilty of malpractice* - should be allowed to design the curriculum they see fit. Their results should be evaluated by the proportion of their students who graduate, go on to further education, and/or find gainful employment, while avoiding useless conflict with society (prison terms, etc.).

Any other standard risks a disproportionate weight given to the personal opinion of outsiders who will not be accountable for the school's results.

*obviously guilty of malpractice: For example, suppose a misguided teacher has introduced students to animal rights extremism, sexual adventurism, terrorism, atheism cloaked as Darwinian evolution, occultism, or whatever, when she was hired to teach a conventional literature curriculum: Her actions should be addressed by the principal, the district superintendent, and/or the Teacher's College.

Most teens will just shrug her off as a nut, of course. However, that does not end the harm. Their year is largely wasted, and a disturbed teen might take her opinions as confirmation that he should carry out some deadly intention he already had in mind.

These events cannot always be prevented, but teachers who are good role models probably prevent more of them than we ever realize, by modelling a sane approach to information.

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