Who Are the Censors?

When it comes to choosing books for the public school system, there's either "book banning" or there's "selective discretion." It all depends on who's doing it. In recent months, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was thrown out of a North Carolina classroom. A middle-school superintendent objected to the book's description of racial stereotypes and decided his English students would not be required to read the book. This isn't the first time Huckleberry Finn has been removed from the classroom. Over the past several years, leaders of various black organizations have argued that the book's use of racist terms "damages the self-esteem of black youth." Now, any adult reader could tell you that the book presents racial stereotypes for the purpose of criticizing them. In the story, young Huckleberry helps a black slave escape to freedom. In the process, he has to do battle with his own racist upbringing. Perhaps Twain's approach is too subtle and ironic for younger children. I can understand if a teacher decides his students aren't ready for the book. But the incident illustrates a double standard that divides our nation over these issues. Let a Christian parent object to a book his child is required to read for school, and the press erupts with dire warnings of censorship. But when a minority group objects to a book, that's called cultural sensitivity. What's really at stake, obviously, is not censorship but ideological correctness. It's easy to find other examples of this double standard. When Christian parents objected to a dictionary because it included crude street slang, they were mocked mercilessly. How could anyone object to, of all things, a dictionary? But when a California teacher objected to a dictionary that included slang words for homosexuals, the book was quietly taken off the shelf. No finger pointing. No hysterics. About a year ago, Christian parents across the country objected to a reading series called "Impressions" because it included several stories about the occult. Most newspapers painted the parents as irrational fundamentalists and quoted hostile statements from the ultraliberal group People for the American Way. But a little later, a series of social studies books was protested by an assortment of ideologically correct groups-including homosexuals, Jews, blacks, and other minorities. People for the American Way was strangely silent. When asked why it failed to come forward this time, People for the American Way (PAW) said these protesters offered "legitimate academic arguments rather than sectarian or ideological attacks." Oh, I get it. If PAW disagrees with you, you're a closed-minded fanatic out to impose your views and censor everyone else's. But if PAW agrees with you, why, you're simply raising legitimate academic concerns. Why this blatant double standard? The answer is that education is one front in a culture war being waged in America today-a battle over who will define our national values and identity. Education is not a neutral process of imparting practical knowledge and technical skills. It's also an important means of transmitting the values of American culture. So the deeper issue confronting us is not whether students should read Huckleberry Finn, or any other particular book. It's who is going to define American culture.


Chuck Colson


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