Ban this Blog!

on Thursday, November 11, 2010
In my recent slackness, I managed to miss Banned Books Week by more than a month. Shame on me. Shout as I do from rooftops about the importance of literary culture, it seems I'm actually the sort who would stand by in silence while books get thrown into the bonfire. But don't come goose stepping to my door with a bag of marshmallows just yet. A recent episode at my old high school has given me the opportunity to wax lyrical on the subject. Better late than never!

As some people in Melbourne may know, Rabbi Kennard, the principal of Mount Scopus College refused to allow Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati to be stocked in the school library because it paints Jewish orthodoxy in a rather unflattering light and essentially encourages people to turn away from religious observance. Oy gevalt! In his own words, Kennard argues that "Dancing in the Dark, a polemic which gives an inaccurate, one-sided and fanatically negative presentation of Jewish life, with a clear agenda of disengaging young Jews from Judaism, is not a book that is appropriate, in my judgement, to be in the library of a Jewish school." A rather extreme interpretation of Bavati's story or thesis, but he is entitled to his opinion.

The move, however, seems to have backfired. By shining the spotlight on the novel in this way, Rabbi Kennard ensured that pretty much every kid, including the ones who never read, would go out and buy it. Um... Mazal Tov? Needless to say, sales of the book have skyrocketed. Personally, I have never understood the rationale for banning books. That kind of crap doesn't even fly in fascist states. For every edict silencing an author, there is a samizdat distribution network to give them back their voice. Not that Bavati needed underground support. Dancing In The Dark is freely available from any local bookstore. Don't get me wrong. I understand why some books might not reach the shelves of a school library - hardcore pornography, graphic depictions of violence, propagation of hate thought... If kids really want that sort of stuff, they shouldn't be getting it from the library. They should be hitting up their school computer labs! Or downloading it to their iPhones and showing it to each other at the back of the playground.

Now, here's the weird thing. I'm usually a big fan of Rabbi Kennard. He's a great guy, very learned, a fantastic administrator and, from all reports, an inspirational educator. Indeed, I credit him with almost single-handedly saving the school from its previous decline. Which is why I'm so dismayed that he has gone down this path. He claims his actions did not amount to a 'ban' as such, but that is really a semantic argument. A rose by any other name still makes me sneeze in Spring. If the school takes issue with the viewpoint expressed in Bavati's book, then encourage the kids to read it and discuss it in an environment that promotes free, critical thought. Isn't that the very essence of education? Banning the book was an unfortunate misstep that I hope Rabbi Kennard will see fit to rectify.

Oh, and as an aside, I find it rather amusing that Robyn Bavati can now hold her book up alongside such esteemed classics as Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War (a personal favourite of mine), Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and that bastion of out and out depravity, Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants. I'm guessing Ms. Bavati won't be donating any of her royalties to the Mount Scopus College Annual Appeal... though she might want to flick a few bucks Kennard's way for the publicity!

2 comments:

mikeybear said...

More "enlightenment" on this topic at Galus Australis.

Personally, this situation is unacceptable. The books need to go on the shelves.

mikeybear said...

BTW Bram, in response to your comment:

"If the school takes issue with the viewpoint expressed in Bavati's book, then encourage the kids to read it and discuss it in an environment that promotes free, critical thought. Isn't that the very essence of education?"

That's exactly what I said.

Snap! :)

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