Saturday, November 24, 2007

Stupidity, migrated north

Good news: Canada has finally started to attack its stupidity surplus problem! They've started small, mind you, but any move after years of rationality is a start. Kudos to the Halton Catholic District School Board for getting the ball rolling, in their decision to ban The Golden Compass simply because its author is atheist.

Of course, that's not the only reason. As any internet message board these days will tell you, the trilogy is explicitly anti-religion, with one of the characters planning to kill God in the final book. Apparently, one of the parents in the Halton Catholic School District has been out on the internets lately, too, and has requested a review of the book. I suspect it's been in the library for several years, and largely ignored by parents except when the student who checked it out failed to return it on time or remove it from the dinner table before it was time to eat.

Now that it's a movie, of course, it's worth increased scrutiny. A committee will read it and then evaluate it based on "a 'wide variety of criteria' including grammar, plausibility, language, plot, etc." It seems rather unfair to evaluate a book that features talking bears, witches, truth-telling devices, and externalized manifestations of the soul on "plausibility", but never mind. I have to wonder just what the Halton Catholic School District is afraid of. When I was in grade school, my best friend and I absolutely loved The Chronicles of Narnia. We read the books obsessively and spent a lot of time trying to find the gateway to Narnia (hint: it is neither at my house nor her house). I don't know about her, but I never became a practicing Christian. The message in the Narnia books was just not strong enough to overcome my secular upbringing. So why would children who are so Catholic that they even go to Catholic school turn their backs on their faith just because of a novel? Isn't that what "faith" is, belief in spite of lack of proof or evidence? It seems to me that if faith is true, it shouldn't be so easily swayed.

At the same time, though, the whole point of education is to teach you how to think for yourself. The prospective removal of these books, because they might allow students to do just that, is disturbing. It may also backfire. When I was in college, they removed the book Ordinary People from a classroom in the district my father taught in. It was a huge mess, and the union wound up getting involved and everything. But you know what? I went out and read the book, and I'm guessing a lot of students who would've slept through the book otherwise did too. It inspired me to attempt a short premise story in which a high school student is investigating a parent's group that's pressing for a book to be banned. The student sneaks into a meeting and learns that it's actually a massive collusion among teachers, school librarians, school administration and school board members to encourage kids to read the targeted book. I never fleshed out my story very well, but I still believe in the point it was trying to make. Maybe the Halton Cahtolic School District actually wants these books read? Could it be?

Thank you to PZ Myers over at Scienceblogs for posting about this first.