Reader’s Corner: Why Does Arkansas Hate History?

The word “censorship” gets thrown around a lot these days, not always responsibly. But every so often you see a case that seems to fit the textbook definition.

One of those instances happened this week in Arkansas, which you may also know as Missour-ah’s underachieving and even more miserable neighbor. The state legislature there is considering a bill that would actually make it illegal for schools to teach the books of Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States.

As Melville House noted:

[The bill] would force Arkansas educators to pretend that Howard Zinn had never written a single book, and furthermore (and this is the really crazy part) would require that they systematically ignore any secondary texts addressing Zinn’s scholarship.

By the logic of the law as written, even materials critical of Zinn’s approach to American history, of which there are many, may be prohibited. Teachers must simply pretend that one of the most influential and most discussed historians of the twentieth century never existed.

Making it illegal to teach from a historian known for his progressive political viewpoint? Sounds like censorship, plain and simple.

Writer’s Desk: Freedom to Offend

It’s an intolerant world. All writers know this. There’s nary a one of us that hasn’t been on the receiving end of some kind of attack based on what we’ve written. The hate comes in all forms, from a simple “you idiot” screed to something more devious, hate-filled, and agenda-based.

That doesn’t mean that we censor ourselves.

It also doesn’t mean that we try and censor others.

When J.K. Rowling, who used to work for Amnesty International, spoke at the PEN America Literary Gala earlier this week, she talked about how “flattered” she had been to find her work so frequently banned and excoriated by religious zealots.

But she refused to countenance the repression of “alternative viewpoints,” even for the likes of somebody like Donald Trump. When an audience member clapped at her mention of an online petition to ban Trump from England, here is what Rowling said:

I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot … If my offended feelings can justify a travel ban on Donald Trump, I have no moral ground on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the fight for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes. If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on them grounds that they have offended you eat, you have crossed the line to stand alongside tyrants who imprison, torture and kill on exactly the same justification…

To put it another, more bumper sticker-friendly way: Mean people suck, especially when they hate your writing. But the alternative is always worse.

Readers’ Corner: Banned Books Week

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It’s national Banned Books Week, when bookstores and libraries put up their displays of frequently challenged or censored titles that various bluestockings have tried to keep from us over the years. Given the ever-declining reading habits of the country, it’s nice to see that some people out there still find the printed word (Adventures of Huckleberry FinnSlaughterhouse-Five, Beloved, and so on) so threatening that they give it the perverse honor of trying to ban it.

This isn’t an issue of the past, school districts are still coming under fire for assigning certain books. In 2011, Sherman Alexie’s award-winning young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was challenged for use in a ninth-grade Washington state class.

tempestJust last year, the Tucson school district — in a fit of reactionary pique — decided to eliminate any books that offended their knuckle-dragging sensibilities. They removed any books that dealt with Mexican-American history; in a district where over half the students have some Mexican-American ancestry.

Not content with banning history, in January:

...administrators informed Mexican-American studies teachers to stay away from any units where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes,” including the teaching of Shakespeare’s classic [The Tempest] in Mexican-American literature courses.

Once upon a time, Decline of the West-styled conservatives like Allan Bloom were lamenting that American education was ignoring the classics in favor of a multiculturalist agenda. Now the very people who once might have once sided with Bloom are going after Shakespeare.

If you go here, you can find out how to submit your very own Virtual Read-Out video.