I have a poster hanging in my classroom. It has many different covers of many different novels on it. In the center, it looks as if it is an eye chart used by optometrists everywhere. But the kicker is what it says: “Censorship Causes Blindness. Read!”
This is my tenth year of teaching high school Language Arts (that’s fancy educator speak for English literature and writing.) I have had this poster since day one, and I believe in it wholeheartedly. Pictured on the poster are books such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1984, and even Judy Blume’s Blubber. Books that are classics. Books that encompass time periods that we have conveniently forgotten about. Books that are guides to not making the same mistakes twice.
My students don’t understand how some of these books could be the victims of censorship. They can’t wrap their heads around how a book about a Southern girl or a book about a wizard boy with a lightening bolt scar can be on the same poster. They don’t get how a book about a girl being bullied because of her weight or about a boy would choose to eat worms would be censored. These students are not blinded by censorship.
If they aren’t, then why are adults? Why the need to censor books, blogs and more? Who decides what is to be censored and what is safe? Isn’t censoring these things just making more of an issue? Shouldn’t we be teaching our children to understand what is right and wrong and also, more importantly, truly understand the defeating power of censorship?
I just finished reading two novels set during World War II and the Holocaust. One was Sarah’s Key. This book was unbelievably heartbreaking to me. Censorship? Yeah, it was everywhere during that time. So much so that the French didn’t even understand that Jewish neighbors were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The second novel I read was Those Who Saved Us. This was from the point of view of a German teen who fell in love with a Jewish doctor. She ended up having to do many difficult things in order to survive. One point rings true: No one was told anything. Everything was censored. The news, the neighbors and even the words each said to each other. Censorship was hurtful. Censorship caused blindness.
It is important to look back on these novels for reference. Especially books like 1984 when the world is a false utopia and Big Brother is constantly watching. It is important to look back in history so the same mistakes aren’t repeated. It is important to look ahead at the ever-changing landscape of the world and make sure our children don’t have to face the dangers of censorship. It is even important to think of the words of Elie Wiesel when he said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” So, in turn, we are not blinded by censorship.