Lord of the Flies

Banned Books Week (Sept. 24-Oct. 1, 2011)In high school, I had an excellent English teacher, Mrs. Fort. She was tough with students and passionate about her job. Every year she had to do battle with the conservative Texas school board. Because of her, I was able to read and discuss Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in a classroom setting. However, she wasn’t able to win every fight.

On graduation day, the Valedictorian gave a speech criticizing censorship in our schools, and mentioned both William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles as books that got cut from our reading lists. Before I fell asleep (I was the second person across the stage in a graduating class of 400), I determined that I would go back and read both of those books.

Book Cover: The Lord of the FliesFlash forward two decades: I finally cracked open Lord of the Flies a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t actually review it here, since I don’t remember much about it except that I considered it a hard but worthwhile read.

I do remember being somewhat conflicted, though; I wasn’t sure I would have had the maturity or perspective to appreciate the book in high school. If the school board had said that they simply didn’t consider it suitable for high school students (and they might very well have; I wasn’t there for the debate, of course), would I have a problem with that or even consider it censorship?

If someone tried to assign Lord of the Flies to an elementary school class, I would agree with a school board stopping that, and certainly wouldn’t consider it censorship. On the other hand, isn’t part of an English teacher’s job to know which books his or her class can handle? Who knows how much more I would have gotten out of Lord of the Flies if it had been open to a classroom discussion led by a knowledgeable teacher?

Anyway, in honor of Banned Books Week and this new blog, this week I will finally read The Martian Chronicles, and  hopefully post a review before the week is over. My copy is only 175 pages, but it isn’t a quick read by any means, so I’m not making any promises.

This entry was posted in Fiction.

One comment on “Lord of the Flies

  1. Rebecca says:

    Hee. I spent years intending to read Lord of the Flies, too, but it eventually fell off the end of my To Do List. I even purchased a copy once, kept it on a shelf for some years and then either donated it to Goodwill still unread or possibly migrated it to my To Read Shelf of Doom after which I haven’t seen it.

    Anyway, because you have touched on one of my current obsessions, I will now lecture you:

    I believe that censoring is generally defined as pre-emptive restrictions on freedom of speech. One of the foundations of U. S. law is the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” Censors step in to prevent (what they see as) a crime before it happens. A sort of “you’re innocent because you don’t have the freedom to be guilty” concept.

    So preventing a teacher from assigning a book is censorship as it restricts that teacher’s freedom of expression. Of course, public schools are an amazing example of how many rights people (students, teachers, and visitors all) don’t have in a “public” place.

    On the other hand, I think there’s a real difference between preventing a teacher from making a book mandatory reading and making a librarian remove a book from the shelves. In the first scenario, an authority figure has their right to freedom of expression curtailed while in the second scenario, not only does the authority figure lose their freedom of expression but the students lose their access to information.

    I would agree that books need to be age-appropriate and in some cases targeted censorship is appropriate. It’s a problem when the censorship is not targeted or insufficiently targeted. An elementary school, for instance, should have books appropriate for fifth graders even if those books are not also appropriate for first graders.

    On the third hand (I am clearly an alien-mutant-squid with as many hands as I want, but moving on…), if you remove everything that someone might find offensive you wind up with bland writing that no one can dredge up enough energy to care about (which is offensive to me.) I seriously think that some students test poorly on reading comprehension standardized tests because, as standardized tests are mandatory reading, the example readings must be acceptable to all review boards. Presumably falling asleep in the middle of reading it is not as offensive as a reference to (a) politics, (b) sex, (c) drugs, (d) magic, (e) religion, (f) violence, (g) prejudice, or (h) anything that anyone actually cares about.

    I would also point out that the purpose of education, both in school and out, is not to keep a kid or adult in their comfort zone. Quite the opposite, it’s to push them beyond their current comfort zone and help them (or force them) to grow both intellectually and emotionally.

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