Don’t Make Them Think! December 21, 2007

Don’t Make Them Think!

The Halton Catholic District School Board in Canada recently banned Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy (which includes The Golden Compass).

Board chair Alice Anne LeMay said that a majority of the board voted against a committee’s request to keep the books in the library.

Here’s the money quotation:

“The board felt that because it really was in opposition of what we’re trying to teach the children, there is a lot of literature out there that is more appropriate for teaching critical thinking,” she said.

“Yes, we do want the children to be good critical thinkers but we can do it with other materials than that one.”

In other words, we’re going to teach kids how to think critically by removing a series of books that might actually challenge their preconceived notions.

We wouldn’t want that to happen…

The timing of this announcement is (coincidentally?) just before the district lets out for a two week winter vacation. So students won’t get much of an opportunity to voice any dissent at least until the second week of January. At which point the board might be hoping this just dies down…

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  • Steve Steverson

    Whatever… It’s a Catholic school. They aren’t exactly known as bastions of free thought.

    I’m reading the trilogy and currently stuck in the first book (the Golden Compass). It’s not really as captivating as I hopped it would be. It certainly is no LOTR. At present, I haven’t run into the ‘anti-Catholic’ bombshell that seems to have gotten everyone’s panties in a bunch.

  • I should say up front that I’m totally opposed to censorship of any kind, and I think it’s ridiculous that a school, even a Catholic school, would want to shelter their kids from opposing viewpoints.

    However, just out of curiosity, but does Camp Quest keep copies of C.S. Lewis on hand too? (If they have a camp library that is.)

  • Oh yes, I blurbed about it. One thing that’s important to remember here is that while yes, it is a Catholic school board, here in Canada (well, ok, mainly in Ontario now) Catholic school districts are publically funded and run side by side with the other secular school districts. So it’s not just the case of a bunch of kooky Catholics banning some fiction by an atheist author, it’s a bunch of kooky Catholics that get public funding banning some fiction by an atheist author.

  • I’m with Anatoly on this one. And I’m pissed about it. You have no idea how pissed I am. I ran in the last election for the one party that wanted to end this systemic discrimination (the Catholic School Board), and I was VERY happy with that particular platform plank.

    This incident is symptomatic of all the things with publicly funded religious education.

    However, I’m taking some comfort in the fact that His Dark Materials has just joined the ranks of some very special literature, including Catcher in the Rye, Huck Finn, Catch-22, Fahrenheit 451, and Howl. And that’s just a sampling of A-H

  • Mriana

    You know, this never makes sense to me. They are always finding reasons to ban books- sexual content, lack of religious content, language, etc. Well… The Bible has sex, just check out Song of Solomon for example. The Bible has some pretty disturbing language too and it has some content that has been used to condon slavery, racism, passages used against homosexuality, anti-feminism… The list goes on and on and on concerning what has been used to discriminate, perpetuate hate, bigotry, racism, hate etc. Not to mention the OT is loaded with sex- good and bad. The Koran has all of that too for that matter, so why don’t we ban the Bible and the Koran too?

    In all seriousness, this whole thing is just plain rediculous IMHO. One thing I’ve never done was forbid my sons to read what they wanted to read- unless it was truly adult material that is or extremely violent. Sex is on an R rated movie or in a book wasn’t too much of a big deal for me either- violence was though. (I should be in Britian 😆 ) My sons neither one turned out to be sexual perverts either. What they read and saw they could have read in the Bible. In fact, I think the Bible has more violence than Bad Boys with Wil Smith.

    Bottomline, if people are going to ban things like the Golden Compass, Tom Sawyer (yes they tried to ban that at one time), or even like Harry Potter, they’d better take a good look at their “good book” before they do.

  • monkeymind

    This incident is symptomatic of all the things with publicly funded religious education.

    I just don’t understand this. I know there are “faith schools” in Britain but I didn’t know there were in Canada tool. So far the religious right in the US hasn’t succeeded in getting govt. funding for religious schools here. Are the faith schools in the UK/Canada allowed to set their own science and history curricula as well?

  • Karen

    However, just out of curiosity, but does Camp Quest keep copies of C.S. Lewis on hand too? (If they have a camp library that is.)

    I suppose you’d have to find someone who actually attended one of the camps to find that out. I would imagine that someone would have to donate any books that would be kept on hand at a Camp Quest library, if week-long summer camp programs even have libraries (none of the summer camps I attended did).

    However, there’s a difference between banning a book from being shelved in a library and having particular books available at any given time.

    I cannot imagine Camp Quest or any other atheist or skeptic group ever banning a book, or discouraging people (including children) from reading. That’s totally anathema to the concept of free thinking and free inquiry, as I understand them.

  • The Catholic School thing goes all the way back to Confederation, and as much as I’d like to blame the British, the culprits were Canadians (though many were like born in the UK).

    At Confederation, there were four signatories: PEI, New Brunswick, and what are now Ontario and Quebec. Ontario had a French Catholic minority, and Quebec had an Anglo-Protestant minority. The BNA (what became our Constitution), guaranteed protection for linguistic and religious education in each province, but only for Protestant (C of E) and Catholic denominations. Every province since then has had to make the same deal as they joined Confederation. It’s a 140-year-old compromise that has left only the Catholics happy. Over time, Protestant schools became Public schools. The Catholics hung in there.

    Every other province has found a way to improve the situation: Newfoundland and Quebec have stopped funding Catholic Education (requiring an amendment to the Constitution), Alberta funds everybody, and the rest either fund Catholic Schools or ignore that bit of the Constitution.

    As far as I know, only Manitoba ever got into a fight about it, and the Feds stayed out of it. As a result, Manitoba is breaking the rules, but the only ones who care are Mantoba Catholics.

    As for curriculum, it is the same, with one notable exception. Catholic schools require a non-credit (meaning that it appears on transcripts, but doesn’t count)theology class (yearly, I think), and mandatory world religions class. I support the latter, as long as it is not presented in such a way as to make the other religions seem sillier than Catholicism (although they probably do, and neglect how silly their own brand of faith can be). As long as these school boards take the province’s money, they must follow the province’s rules.

    We have other, private, religious schools in Ontario, but they do what they want. If they want to be taken seriously, they offer the province’s curriculum, but there is no compulsion to do so. In fact, I taught at an Islamic School here in London, ON. Ask me about it sometime. They followed Ontario’s curriculum because these kids wanted post-secondary education.

    Sorry it’s so long. But it’s complicated.

  • Unrelated but have you read this? 10 things atheists and Christians Must/Can Agree on It seemed up your alley.

  • monkeymind

    Thanks Brett, that gives me some background.

    In fact, I taught at an Islamic School here in London, ON. Ask me about it sometime.

    OK I’ll bite. What was that like? What did you teach?

  • Dysentery

    I can’t honestly belive they actually banned it. I’m shocked. Well then.
    Here’s a copy of the letter I just sent to the school board.

    I have just heard of your board’s decision to pull the Philip Pullman books from your libraries. I must say I am rather disappointed with this decision. If these books were a part of the curriculum then I would say you may have a case for removing them. Since they are just included in the library, this action is shocking. Censoring material on ideological grounds is immoral and intellectually unjustifiable. Catholic school or not, this is Canada not Iran and I am ashamed to be a citizen in a country where this kind of thinking is considered acceptable. If you are so against Mr. Pullman’s stance then debate and inform your students WHY you think it’s wrong. Hiding the books and pretending they don’t exist is insipid and certainly does nothing for your reputation as educators. As a matter of fact, it usually has the opposite effect (RE: the current movie from the book). These are EXACTLY the kind of actions that turn people against the Church and ironically enough, the very point Mr. Pullman makes in his books that you banned.

  • Stephanie

    It’s banned from the library, not the school. If the students wanted to protest, the way to do it would be to show up after their winter break with their own copies of TGC in hand. It would only take a little PR on it to escalate things uncomfortably for the school board.

  • I’ll be brief here, and just mention a few impressions. I’ll blog about it someday soon, and I’ll come back here, bearing a link.

    The first, and later least surprising thing, I noticed was the ratio to girls v. boys. Boys were significantly outnumbered. Most of my female students had brothers in public school, and were proud that their fathers worked so hard to pay their tuition as opposed to their brothers’. This was not-so-subtly the most sexist and possibly the most offensive thing about it. These men were making sure their daughters were good Muslim wives (in fact, I had a grade 11 student who had been married since she was 15), while their sons could go out and get all Westernized.

    It probably has a great deal to do with the misogynistic elements of the faith. There’s less need to keep the men ignorant of options, because they’re more likely to opt into this system which gives them so much power.

    And it was an island of ignorance. I got into trouble twice. Once for mentioning birth control in geography class when we were talking about population trends in developed nations (and I was careful to point out the Islam forbade birth control) and the other time for bringing a few magazines for collages (GQ, Rolling Stone and Esquire, while not exactly prudish, hardly pornography).

    The idea was to shelter these girls as much as was possible in a country with cable television.

    Incidentally, the boys and girls weren’t allowed to play together. Not basketball, dogeball, or anything. Even when they were in the gymnasium together. That may have been the most bizarre part of it.

  • Oh, and I forgot. I taught English, History, Geography, ESL, Computer Science, and once or twice covered French.

    My grade 8 girls never did their homework for any subject.

  • Karen

    Islam forbids birth control? I never heard that before. I had heard that they do not oppose birth control or even abortion, actually, but maybe I’m misinformed or thinking of a different branch of Islam (not Wahabbism?).

    Why do we not see huge, huge families in Muslim countries like we see in the more religious Catholic countries, like central and South America, where having 18 or 20 births is not terribly uncommon? Are they all ignoring the dictates, like Westernized Catholics?

  • I could be wrong as well. The nature of the compaint seemed to be that these girls were 12-13, and now they knew that they could choose not to have children. Maybe my timing was off.

    It could also have been that I’m a man, unrelated to them, and not a Muslim. Maybe a propriety issue?

    It’s something that I need to find out, now. It’ll give me some ammunition with my Catholic relatives. 😉

  • Ian

    I live in Alberta – the main other province that still funds Catholic and other faith schools (and in some places there are not even secular public schools I’ve heard!).

    The Calgary and Elk Island Catholic boards have also banned these books, but aimed to almost keep it less heard than in Ontario. Calgary is the largest city in this province with about 1 million residents, and Elk Island is just outside the capital of Edmonton.

    It’s all utterly ridiculous.

    And thanks to Brett for clearing up our messed up school system.

  • Karen

    I see, Brett. If you find out anything definitive, let us know. I’m interested.

  • I’ve personally known a student here in Ontario who had completed high school at a private Christian school and was denied university admission. This particular student had to re-take all the senior level courses in the public system before being accepted a year and a half later.

  • Tao Jones

    Thanks for clearing up some of the misconceptions Brett.

    This is right in my backyard. The one thing I would like to add is that the major city in Halton County is Burlington, Ontario. Burlington has a reputation for being elitist and “Yuppie central” as it is rather affluent compared to its neighbours.

    This school board, is apparently known for doing some pretty wonky things like forbidding government sponsored inoculations. I honestly think this has more to do with the Yuppie factor than the Catholic factor.

    A few weeks ago, a board spokesperson went on the radio to comment about why this book was pulled from the shelves (it hadn’t been banned at this point.) He couldn’t give an answer as to what was objectionable about the book other than there had been a complaint.

    One of my old parish priests (who I respected greatly) is actually on the Halton Separate School Board board of trustees. I’m curious to see what kind of role he had in this.

    All in all, I’m totally embarrassed that something like this could happen so close to home. I thought you southerners were the ones who had to deal with this nonsense. 🙂

  • Gosh, christians banning books from their library because they challenge their beliefs? How shocking! That never happens.

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