Friday, February 04, 2005

Book burners

In Norwood, Colorado, parents have apparently taken to gathering up and burning a book -- Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima -- that was assigned to freshmen as part of an English assignment and then confiscated by school officials after these parents protested:
It wasn't a band of angry students who destroyed about two dozen copies of "Bless Me, Ultima," a novel selected for a Norwood High School English class -- it was a group of parents. Norwood School Superintendent Bob Conder confiscated the books and released them to parents to be burned or otherwise purged.

Conder said that he removed the books based on complaints by parents, complaints that were made "mainly" about the language. The book, which is used in high school level curricula all over the country, contains profanity; it also deals with cultural and religious issues.

"Filthy language," said Conder of the profanity. "I'm not going to repeat the language. Our job is to protect kids from things that aren't good for kids."

According to a report from the American Library Association:
Conder said the books, about 2 dozen in total costing $6.99 each, were pulled from the classroom, and designated to be destroyed. The parents approached the superintendent and asked that they be able to burn the books instead of the school janitor destroying them.

The ALA report also describes the book being attacked:
Rudolfo Anaya, a professor emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico, wrote "Bless Me Ultima" in 1972. It explores the difficulty of reconciling conflicting cultural traditions. The main character, a young boy growing up in New Mexico during World War II, struggles with the complexities of his religion. He becomes increasingly frustrated by the failure of the Catholic Church to explain the most pressing questions about morality and human experience and is frustrated by his failure to find a forgiving god, and then finds an unlikely mentor in a local "healer" who comes to live with his family.

Many of the characters in the book are limited by their cultural prejudices and never learn to look beyond their own assumptions. Meanwhile the main character grows to understand that his experiences are lessons about life, and he knows that he must take life's lessons to heart, even when they are difficult, painful, or disappointing. Learning the importance of tolerance marks his growth, especially as he begins to realize that some religions may be better suited to some people than to others.

The same book was chosen by other Colorado communities, such as Fort Collins, Boulder, and most recently Grand Junction at Mesa State College as the book of choice to be read as a community. Anaya commented, "The book should be judged in its entirety. There is some strong language in strong situations, but there is no flippant use of profanity."

I think Anaya also has the situation sized up about right:
"Parents have the right to monitor what their children read, however they do not have the right to tell others what they can read. That is un-American, un-democratic and un-educational."

Yeah, well, who cares about democracy and education when our moral values are at stake?

Though it's true that previous cultures where book burnings were encouraged by officialdom didn't exactly work out so well on the moral values thing ...

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