Opinion: Stop education censorship

Matt Vroom

Matt Vroom

By Kiyoshi Martinez

The American Library Association’s Banned Book Week ended Friday. Educators and teachers promoted the reading of books that had been challenged or censored. Such an event takes place to remind American citizens of the intellectual freedoms they have. Unbelievably, some public institutions still participate in actions that violate the rights of free people.

On Sept. 21, in Littleton, Colo., Dakota Ridge High School gave 10th-grader Devin Strauch an ultimatum: cease handing out unauthorized, noncurricular literature or face suspension.

Ordinarily, you would suspect a statement like that for distributing hate literature. Instead, Strauch had been handing out free copies of Kiss Me Judas, an acclaimed novel by Will Christopher Baer, to interested students for several weeks.

Strauch, 16, reads books for enjoyment – a rare occurrence among teenage males.

“I first found Chuck Palahniuk from Fight Club, ” said Strauch. “I got led to authors such as Craig Clevenger, Douglas Coupland – and the man himself, Will Christopher Baer.”

Strauch wanted to share his enthusiasm for books with others, so he joined the MacAdam/Cage Publishing Street Team to promote interest in Baer’s novels. As street team captain in Littleton, Colo., he received 28 advanced-reader copies of Kiss Me Judas to distribute.

“The authors I mentioned just write in a way that revamped literature for me, and that’s what I’m hoping to do for everyone,” said Strauch. “Get them to start reading again.”

The problem came when Strauch offered a school security guard a copy of Judas before school. The same security guard came back for him in first period to escort him to the assistant principal’s office.

Strauch said the assistant principal informed him that school policy stated all books distributed by students must go through a review process for approval, and if he gave out more books, he would be suspended.

See what happens when you’re nice and offer someone a book?

School officials searched Strauch’s backpack for more copies of Judas and confiscated his personal copy of Baer’s Hell’s Half Acre. Security also confiscated another student’s copy of Judas later that day. Strauch also was warned not to be caught reading Baer’s books in class.

The tactics and judgments used by this school are outrageous.

Here is an administrator who puts policy before educational values. Here is a policy that places a student who loves to read on the same status as a drug dealer. Here is a situation that violated a student’s right to pursue intellectual development. Here is an institution that uses censorship and fear, instead of freedom and encouragement.

And to imagine the hard-working citizens of Littleton paying their taxes to fund this un-American system; I don’t know about Denmark, but something is rotten in Colorado.

Jason Wood and Pat Walsh at MacAdam/Cage Publishing find the situation to be hypocritical, especially during banned-book week.

“Replace our book with any other book on the banned-book list, and (Strauch) wouldn’t have caught flak.”

They’re right. Strauch was pulled out of English class where they were reading Huckleberry Finn, number five on the ALA’s most frequently challenged book list.

After learning of Strauch’s situation, author Baer, who maintains close contact with his fanbase via his Web site, www.willchristopherbaer.com, has a simple solution to those who have issues with his novels.

“If you don’t want to read something, don’t read it. If it’s not your cup of tea, then go find another cup of tea.”

And that is the type of mentality educators should convey to students. Instead of acting as dictators over every aspect of a student’s life, administrators should provide an environment where free-thinking individuals can make their own decisions for themselves.

It’s shocking that an incident like this can take place in the modern era. If the future is our youth, then we must provide them with intellectual freedom.

Kiyoshi Martinez is a junior in journalism. His column runs Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]