Thursday, June 02, 2005

If Books Are Weapons in the War of Ideas, Then Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Through Meredith Farkas' blog, Information Wants to be Free, I came across this article about the ten most harmful books. Can you hear the ominous music in the background. She writes a little reflection that is both thoughtful and right on target. It seems that everything on the list, according to Ms. Farkas, "basically any book that questions capitalism, religion, a woman’s place in society, sexual mores, or advocates the role of science, social welfare programs, and consumer and environmental safety controls is considered harmful." One of the books that made it on the list is Democracy and Education by John Dewey. The authors of Human Events, the publishers of the list, write about Dewey's book that it "disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking “skills” instead." Imagine that, someone that actually suggested that we teach our children some critical thinking skills so that they might grow up to be effective problem solvers. How harmful and terrible. All these years in teaching, and all the research in favor of actually teaching critical thinking, but apparently to the compilers of the list, that is not the "right" approach.

I looked over the list, and I can proudly say that I have read some of the books on the list, or if not the particular book, other works by the authors listed. I think this is definitely a list I may be forwarding to my colleagues, just to see how they are doing on their reading, and it is likely a list that should circulate, just to see how "harmed" readers have been. I don't recall who said it at the moment, but there is the saying that the way to counter bad ideas is with more ideas, not with less. Like Farkas, I have read from the list, and I have not launched an armed revolt. It does not mean I am not a little subversive every chance I get. Because at the end of the day, it is our ability to question and to evaluate and to debate and to think that makes us unique as well as makes us better people. If you are going to stand up for a point of view, if you are going to make an argument, you have to know who the opposition is so you know how to refute them effectively. If for no other reason, that may be why people should read as widely and freely as possible. Ms. Farkas says it very well when she writes that "Reading things that promote different viewpoints encourages critical thinking and helps people to determine what their own views on these subjects are. People who think of books as harmful really don’t want people to think. They don’t believe that people can be trusted to make up their own mind about things. It’s an idea they have in common with the same totalitarian regimes they hated so much." If they could only look themselves in a mirror.

The title of this post, books are weapons in the war of ideas, refers to an old World War II propaganda slogan. Yet it is as accurate today as it was back then. It is a war of ideas out there, and those who are best armed are the ones who will be able to get ahead. So, keep reading and keep passing on the reading to others. I never forget when I was in younger days, how I was told by a family friend that it was a sign of a free man (ok person, so he was not as PC haha) that he was willing as well as able to read anything, to decide what to read. Those words have always stayed with me throughout my life. I have come to see how important that small concept is: to be able to read freely and widely.

Now, to make things more interesting, the DailyKos political blog (yea, I read a few of those) makes a reference to the list and adds some other items that may irk the people who think certain books are harmful. It has a bit of humor, after all, who would have thought Goodnight Moon could harm so many people? At any rate, I shall continue to read as much as possible, and I will keep passing the ammunition. As a librarian, I can see no better role for me than to educate others and foster the revolution, televised or otherwise.

P.S. Some may wonder what I may be reading at the moment. Most of my current reading list is over at my main blog, but if I am reading something that falls within "the topics not spoken of in polite company," I will likely list it here. As for blogs that I read up, it's Bloglines. (yea, I know, I probably should link to it).

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