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Irony in Censorship - Banning Fahrenheit 451

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Parent criticizes book ‘Fahrenheit 451′ (from HCNonline.com)

A Caney Creek High School dad is fired up because the Conroe Independent School District uses the book “Fahrenheit 451″ as classroom reading material.

Alton Verm, of Conroe, objects to the language and content in the book. His 15-year-old daughter Diana, a CCHS sophomore, came to him Sept. 21 with her reservations about reading the book because of its language.

“The book had a bunch of very bad language in it,” Diana Verm said. “It shouldn’t be in there because it’s offending people. … If they can’t find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn’t have a book at all.”

Alton Verm filed a “Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials” Thursday with the district regarding “Fahrenheit 451,” written by Ray Bradbury and published in 1953. He wants the district to remove the book from the curriculum.

Did you read Fahrenheit 451 in school? Chances are, you did. I know I did. It was required reading for my grade 10 English class. Since the book was published in 1953, it has been a staple of educational programming throughout the United States - because of the raw and somewhat disturbing subject matter.

From Wikipedia - Fahrenheit 451:

The novel reflects several major concerns of the time of its writing: what Bradbury has called “the thought-destroying force” of McCarthyism in the 1950s; the burnings of books in Nazi Germany starting in 1933; Stalin’s suppression of authors and books in the Soviet Union; and the horrible consequences of an explosion of a nuclear weapon. “I meant all kinds of tyrannies anywhere in the world at any time, right, left, or middle,” Bradbury has said.

One particularly ironic circumstance is that, unbeknownst to Bradbury, his publisher released a censored edition in 1967 that eliminated the words “damn” and “hell” for distribution to schools. Later editions with all words restored include a “Coda” from the author describing this event and further thoughts on censorship and “well-meaning” revisionism.

First of all, let’s reflect on the subject matter of the book. The main character of the novel lives in a dystopian society, where all free thought is restricted and the reading of books is banned outright, and the contraband literature is burned. Powerful metaphor for the issues and events named by Mr. Bradbury - events that were truly more disturbing, violent, horriffic, corrupt, evil and insane than the metaphor.

If we allow one person’s misguided ignorance and self-important pretention to gain a foothold, it’s almost already a lost cause. Already, a precident where their over-sheltered child believes that if she is offended by something, or made uneasy, it’s okay to pretend it doesn’t exist, and do something else. And that’s exactly what has been allowed to happen in this case.

Diana Verm and another classmate decided to read an alternative book. They leave the classroom when the class reads or discusses “Fahrenheit 451,” she said. The two students were given “Ella Minnow Pea” by Mark Dunn because it shares common themes with “Fahrenheit 451,” said Chris Hines, CISD assistant superintendent for secondary education.

The idea of “deciding to read an alternate book” and leaving the classroom when they discuss or read the standard material is a special brand of self-righteous ignorant delusions of entitlement. Worse is the fact that the school, the teacher, and the school district are playing into it, that they’ve basically given credibility to this preposterous behavior by allowing the students, not the teachers, to write the lesson plan according to what makes them comfortable.

And rather than be content with having avoided reading something that is not comfortable and happy, it’s become a mission for these ignorant, judgemental people - they don’t like it, and they want it gone. For the time being, I’ll ignore the ironic humor in trying to ban a book about censorship and book burning.

“It’s just all kinds of filth,” said Alton Verm, adding that he had not read “Fahrenheit 451.” “The words don’t need to be brought out in class. I want to get the book taken out of the class.”

He looked through the book and found the following things wrong with the book: discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, “dirty talk,” references to the Bible and using God’s name in vain.

Book burning, coarse language, and drunkenness, among other slight moral lapses depicted in Fahrenheit 451 cannot even be compared to the horror and violence and sickening, graphic, ABSOLUTELY TRUE accounts of the Holocaust. The atrocities committed against the Jewish people, the industrialized, government sanctioned murder and torture of other people, is unspeakable. Should we cease teaching students about that? It seems “pretty inappropriate” by the standards mentioned. Likewise, most chapters of American History and certainly Ancient World History (those bloody, bloody romans…) should be axed. Where does it stop?

The systematic extermination of over six million human beings was enacted while an entire population stood helplessly, some disbelieving, some relieved it was not them, and others oblivious.

Monstrosities like the Jewish Holocaust, genocide in Rwanda, the atrocities of Stalin’s regime all share a common factor - they happen when people choose ignorance because it’s easier. When they decide to ignore the parts of life that aren’t “pretty” and “easy” and “nice,” and set out to push their ignorance on others, it’s a start down a slippery, unstable road that goes nowhere good.

I hope, sincerely, that the school reassesses their decision to support this utter nonsense. This unfortunate situation won’t bring any good to anyone - if this guy and his daughter are so upset by the curriculum provided by the school, perhaps a change of school is in order. But Fahrenheit 451 is included in just about every High School’s required reading for a reason. And that reason is to show exactly what can happen when people give in to censorship.

Those who start with burning books, end with burning men.
–Heinrich Heine

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