The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime has recently come under fire as being to controversial for a Big Read. The curious thing about it is that I agree. This is either and indicator of age, a right turn on the political spectrum, or wisdom. For obvious reasons I am going to pick wisdom. In the past fifteen years as a teacher, and as a concerned citizen prior to that, I have fought against censorship. So what is different this time? In order to better analyze this particular situation I should probably review my history with censorship.
I come from a household in which my mother was horribly offended by violence and my father turn violently red at the mention of sex. Needless to say I wasn't allowed to see any R-rated movies. I was, however, allowed to read just about anything. I still remember fondly the day I learned the word phallus from reading The Excorsist. My dad wasn't nearly as happy as I was, but he never even threatened to take the book away.
This freedom to read virtually anything molded me into a typical militant high school student. Farenheit 451 was the worst thing that could happen to a society. Anyone that wanted to ban books was some sort of cro-magnon fascist.
Luckily, as I entered my teaching career I managed to tone down just a little. My first job in a Muslim school was a challenge. The philosophy of the school was that writing was technical skill not an art. As a first year teacher who had to devise his own curriculum I still thought it was important to at least read some authors as examples of good writing. With a limited budget I decided to purchase $1 copies of Call of the Wild. I had the submit the book for review. Amazingly it came back with only one black mark on it. The imam had crossed out the word sex. I ranted about him being a cretin because the word was refering to gender not the act. I was desperate for a job and the absence of one word did not really affect the text. I had compromised. I eventually left the job, not because of this incident, but because the general tone and philosophy of the school did not match mine. An interesting side note, some of the members of this mosque were later arrested for funneling money to terrorist organizations.
The next time a book caused any stir in my classroom was when a veteran teacher gave me some copies of Gal because I once again had to develop my own curriculum. I was a third year teacher, but it was my first year at my districts alternative program. Gal was a high interest read for my students, but two of the black teachers in the school had a problem with yet another portrayal of a dishfunctional black protagonist. It was probably this characteristic that made the book so interesting to the students. Forgetting momentarily that I was white I decided to fight what I thought was blatant censorship, but as a third year teacher with a first year principal it just wan't going to happen. Looking back now I realized that I should have been more sensitive to their point of view.
The final milestone in our journey to The Curious Incident, again deals with fears of an attack from the left. There never really was a battle, mainly because I had prepared for it. One of my students had written a poem containing the N-word. The topic was racial profiling and the word was used as dialogue from the police officer. Before anyone could say no, I wrote a justification for the poem and had the student write one as well. We were prepared for battle. When I failed to get a response to an email I figured that it was on. I was wrong. The poem was approved, and all we had to do was write a warning and disclaimer on the inside of the CD cover.
Both of the last two incidents happened in the same district in which we are currently dealing with The Curious Incident episode. For the most part I feel that I work at a rather liberal district and don't fear censorship or totalitarian mandates. In the case of the book I always felt that we had the backing of the administration. So why don't I want to fight this? Since I eliminated age and facism we are left with wisdom. My experiences have led me to redefine censorship and this incident doesn't reach the standard. Though I am dealing with close-minded people they are not keeping me or anyone else from reading the book. They are excercising their right to not have to read the book. They are essentially changing the channel. If I were to force this book on them, then I would be doing the same as if they denied me access. Wisdom has begun to make the clear cut a little murky.