A liberal arts education is all about studying great, original works of literature. Many of the historic tomes we turn to today were banned in their time for being too controversial - think Lord of the Flies, The Grapes of Wrath, or Tropic of Cancer. Maybe they were taught secretly at the equivalent of an alternative liberal arts college, but it took years for the general public to be able to read and learn from them.
But did censorship of classics and literature in general stop when these works became available and widely read? A couple of recent examples show the contrary.
The Chinese Pun Ban
China has banned the pun. Specifically, the country’s print and broadcast watchdog has barred any type of wordplay on the grounds that it misleads the public (especially children) and makes it difficult to promote cultural heritage.
It’s not clear what the pun-ishment may be for breaking such a rule, but given China’s record, there will no doubt be swift consequences. No word yet on if they will try and extend this ban to the internet, though it is an attempt to keep “internet culture” out of the mainstream press.
Many have started speculating as to what China’s motives may be, aside from the stated cultural heritage narrative. The academic director for CET Chinese studies at Beijing Capital Normal University is one of them.
David Norman told The Guardian that wordplay is actually a very established part of Chinese linguistic tradition and wondered “if this is not a pre-emptive move, an excuse to crack down for supposed ‘linguistic purity reasons’ on the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies. It sounds too convenient.”
Arizona and Mexican American Studies Books
China may be half a world away, but there is another case of literary censorship happening only 1750 miles from liberal arts colleges in Chicago, down in Arizona. Paulo Friere’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed along with Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña and other books taught as part of Mexican American Studies were barred from public school curriculums in 2010.
The superintendent of public instruction at the time, Tom Horne, and John Huppenthal, a former state senator who now heads the Arizona Education Department, thought the program bread resentment towards white people among Latino students. They successfully got the Ethnic Studies Law passed, which bans classes that “breed ethnic resentment or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals.” Teachers, on the other hand, argued that the course taught critical thinking and pointed to statistics showing improvement in students’ grades.
In 2013, the Tucson Unified School District voted to overturn the ruling and allow the seven previously banned titles back into the classroom. This was due, in part, to a desegregation lawsuit from a few decades ago that forces the district to include culturally relevant courses. The majority of the student population the district serves is Mexican American.
Do you think censorship still has a place in our society, or is it merely a means of exerting political control?