“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” That phrase is evermore coming true in the modern era of craziness and critical theory. Currently, a sustained effort is underway to deny children access to literature from previous eras. On the bandwagon of #Disrupttexts, a movement dedicated to purging classic texts, are critical theory ideologues, school teachers, and Twitter agitators. On the list of banned books is Homer’s Odyssey, which was recently banned by a school in Massachusetts.
The idea behind banning historical literature comes down to protecting children from reading stories “in which racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate are the norm,” as young-adult novelist Padma Venkatraman writes in School Library Journal. No author is valuable enough to spare, Ms. Venkatraman instructs: “Absolving Shakespeare of responsibility by mentioning that he lived at a time when hate-ridden sentiments prevailed, risks sending a subliminal message that academic excellence outweighs hateful rhetoric.”
Pause; children are not looking at subliminal messages – so instead of adding cultural context, according to the banners’ ideology, we should deny children literature and teach only ‘safe’ writings. Well, who determines what is ‘safe?’ Also, who else has decided that banning books is a good idea – Hitler.
One example of the Nazi party’s purge of literature; “On May 10, 1933, student groups at universities across Germany carried out a series of book burnings of works that the students and leading Nazi party members associated with an “un-German spirit.” Enthusiastic crowds witnessed the burning of books by Brecht, Einstein, Freud, Mann, and Remarque, among many other well-known intellectuals, scientists, and cultural figures, many of whom were Jewish. The largest of these book bonfires occurred in Berlin, where an estimated 40,000 people gathered to hear a speech by the propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, in which he pronounced that “Jewish intellectualism is dead” and endorsed the students’ “right to clean up the debris of the past.”
Historical literature adds context to historical facts and to what was currently taking place at that time. In addition, it allows children to determine their own understanding and, in the process, become more literate. Children should absolutely be exposed to the past evils to grow their morality and to learn the difference between right and wrong. The teachers and critical theory idealists are pushing to rid schools of the scarlet letter, Shakespeare, Dr. Suess, and many more ‘not-safe’ writings.
In fact, a teacher in Seattle said in 2018 that he’d “rather die” than teach “The Scarlet Letter,” unless Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel is used to “fight against misogyny and slut-shaming.”
Outsiders got a glimpse of the intensity of the #DisruptTexts campaign recently when self-described “antiracist teacher” Lorena Germán complained that many classics were written more than 70 years ago: “Think of US society before then & the values that shaped this nation afterwards. THAT is what is in those books.”
The demands for censorship appear to be getting results. “Be like Odysseus and embrace the long haul to liberation (and then take the Odyssey out of your curriculum because it’s trash),” tweeted Shea Martin in June. “Hahaha,” replied Heather Levine, an English teacher at Lawrence (Mass.) High School. “Very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from the curriculum this year!” When I contacted Ms. Levine to confirm this, she replied that she found the inquiry “invasive.” The English Department chairman of Lawrence Public Schools, Richard Gorham, didn’t respond to emails.
“It’s a tragedy that this anti-intellectual movement of canceling the classics is gaining traction among educators and the mainstream publishing industry,” says science-fiction writer Jon Del Arroz, one of the rare industry voices to defend Ms. Cluess. “Erasing the history of great works only limits the ability of children to become literate.”