Question: What do the following have in common: Brave New World; Fahrenheit 451; The Grapes of Wrath; To Kill a Mockingbird; Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Answer: Every one of those books ought to be required reading in a modern representative democracy; and every one of those books was at one time or another banned in a modern representative democracy: The United States of America.
Last December, as snow was falling on the small city of Bedford, N.H., the ax was falling on Barbara Ehrenreichs 2001 book, Nickel and Dimed. According to an AP story, the local school board in response to two parents who complained that some of the content is inappropriate for their teenage sons economics class decided to take a hard look at Ehrenreichs first-person, undercover exposé of working poor realities. Come to find out, the lads parents, Aimee and Dennis Taylor, garnered enough support to prompt the board to place the issue on their January agenda.
Sure enough, a month (and a considerable amount of local moral head-butting) later, the board voted to remove the book from the Bedford High curriculum. So it was game over. Consequently, according to the sources, that unit of the course is now being taught with materials from CNN (corporate news), Kiplingers (corporate investing) and The Christian Science Monitor (corporate analysis). And we wonder why we turn out so many business majors and so few social workers.
But theres always a back story when it comes to a good old-fashioned American book banning. In this case, the Taylors attacked Nickel and Dimed not on economic, but stylistic and religious grounds: too much cussing, too little Jesus. As to the cussing, in the course of temporarily living the hardscrabble existence millions of low wage American workers face every day, Ehrenreich describes her experience with some seriously salty language. Umbrage was taken. (Swearing is hardly a foreign phenomenon in the milleau of the American public secondary school, but there you have it.)
And equally egregious to the Taylors is Ehrenreichs Christology; while undercover and attending a revival in Maine, she posits that Jesus was a socialist vagrant who would be mightily pissed to find out that most of the world remembered the messenger but thoroughly trashed the message. Robust umbrage was taken this time. (Funny, how some people want the Lord to get more air time in the classroom right up until everybody gets a turn.)
Folks, forgive the admittedly jaded, secondary reporting and accompanying cynicism, but if youre going to go banning books in the free world you damn well better do it for something other than dirty words and edgy ideas; because there are things in this world that are a whole worse than potty-mouthed adolescents and competing divinities capricious, publically-funded institutional censorship being one of them; ignoring the dehumanization exacted upon working poor men, women and youth in the form of a substandard minimum wage being another.
So, friend of the free market of ideas, get out the BlackBerry and punch in Banned Books Week, held during the last week of September. Maybe throw a fundraiser or rally. Me, I think Ill preach a sermon on that Sunday. Something about the moral merits of cussing and the moral mandates of Jesus.
Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2011
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