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The books which are prescribed for learning in schools face the problem of censorship and the rate is increasing from year to year. The schools are independent bodies and they have the right and power to decide which book is to be discarded and which is to be taught. The board including PTA members, teachers, subject experts etc, discuss the matter and choose the appropriate books that are suited to the mental understanding level of learners.
Next to the curriculum committee, the teachers and parents are responsible on the selection and decision of the study material. Parents are more critical towards the selection of study materials and the teachers face the problem of selecting the right book. Moreover, the selected books must satisfy the taste of the students, because there is individual difference among students and they are from different families. Children acquire knowledge from the ideas from the elders, and more than their parents, Students follow the foot steps of their teachers. Some students are not even ready to obey their parents, but are ready to follow the instructions of their teachers. Here lies the importance of the role of the teacher in censoring the prescribed books.
The works of Mark Twain and J.K. Rowling has been censored so often, and among them, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and “Harry Potter series” are selected here as examples. The story of Tom Sawyer, the hero, is about a small boy who is mischievous and is of adventure loving nature. The characters in the story are country folks and the setting of the story is in a dirty street. The language that the street children use is really filthy.
As a reader, it is acceptable but from the view point of a teacher, it is not. As David suggests, “The streets are dirt, and cottages and houses are surrounded by traditional whitewashed fences. School, church, the kitchen, and dusty streets in front of picket fences and houses provide the details of village life” (David E. E. Sloane, 2001, Student Companion to Mark Twain)
The settings of the story, caves full of darkness, danger and suspense may turn the young readers feeble minded and the midnight escapades of the boys may tempt the children to run away from their houses, in search of adventure. This touch of gloominess and darkness in Twain’s writings is echoed by David when he states: “Varied hiding places and midnight escapades let events move beyond the commonplace limitations of daily village life, as another writer such as Twain’s friend William Dean Howells might have shown it..
Characters find moments of darkness, danger, and suspense not only in the graveyard, cave, and haunted” (David E. E. Sloane, 2001, Student Companion to Mark Twain) When the children read the story, they may try to imitate the life of the hero. This will lead to fight among the children. There is nothing to be acquired from the hero because he is always trying to escape from the works which are assigned by his aunt Polly.
This is evident from the following quotation: “Tom goes out to practice his newly acquired art of whistling and finds a well-dressed new boy, later introduced as Alfred Temple, and the boys challenge each other until they fight”. (David E. E. Sloane, 2001, Student Companion to Mark Twain) Because of these reasons, this book has been censured so often.
The next author and work is J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter series. The series is highly criticized and the critics are of the opinion that the books mislead the children. Harry Potter, the hero, believes in supernatural elements, witchcraft, and black magic. While searching for his family members, Harry happens to reach the group of black magicians and accept their company, and decided to be a magician. As Janice C Prewitt remarks, “He finds in Hogwarts not only an appropriate school for the refinement of his abilities, but a community, a family to which he now belongs”. (Janice C. Prewitt, Heroic Matriculation: The Academies of Spenser, Lewis, and Rowling, 2006)
The problem is that, the children who read the book begin to believe that the story of Harry is a real one and begin to imitate the dangerous deeds of Harry the hero. The plot of the series is typical fairy-tale, black magicians, witchcraft, alchemy,etc, thickens the plot. These sorts of tales influence the tender minds of the children and it affects the character formation and behavior: “Her illuminating study asserts that the typical fairy-tale ending in the Harry Potter books ensures the readers’ enjoyment of the “adventure, drama, and danger” of the texts (146)”. (Janice C. Prewitt, Heroic Matriculation: The Academies of Spenser, Lewis, and Rowling, 2006)
The readers, i.e. the children feel that the things that are narrated in the book are real and they face the problem of adjustment in the real world. Children like the stories with happy ending and when the story is sad ending the emotion of the hero is transmitted to the children. “ In books five and six, however, this happy ending is missing”. (Janice C. Prewitt, Heroic Matriculation: The Academies of Spenser, Lewis, and Rowling, 2006)
However, it is possible to use the texts under consideration for classroom transaction for the adolescent students by limiting the likelihood of censorship. For this, the students must be informed that the incidents narrated in the novel are based on Mark Twain’s own experiences, and other incidents are related to his friend’s life. The historical and cultural setting of the novel are to be properly presented to the students so that they are not negatively affected by the filthy language used in the text and are not misled by the uncivilized way of life of the characters.
Similarly, the mischief committed by Tom Sawyer is to be attributed to the peculiar characterization of the writer rather than a model that can be exemplified and imitated. No doubt, the Gothic images provide a touch of darkness to the narration but it can be taken as the appropriate setting that can arrest the attention of the readers. To conclude, when one teaches a text like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer one should be able to convince the adolescent learners that there is a large amount of difference in the culture and society they live and the setting in which the story is placed.
Therefore, a sensible approach would be to take the text as a whole without distorting it, and then to identify the areas that can harm the learners, and to make them at ease to appreciate the work for what it is. The same process is applicable to all the other texts under consideration and the ultimate problem lies not in the texts but in the way it is transacted in the classroom.
Student Companion to Mark Twain. By David E. E. Sloane. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT, 2001.
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Heroic Matriculation: The Academies of Spenser, Lewis, and Rowling. By Janice C. Prewitt. West Virginia University Philological Papers. Volume: 53, 2006.