An English Teacher Speaks out Against Censorship

Jon Fisher, Teacher Writer

This essay was originally published in the Dewitt Observer on Dec. 28, 2021.

As the late science fiction writer Harlan Ellison stated, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

You hold the book you’ve never read (or remember) in one hand and “flick your BIC” with the other. 

This bonfire is going to be great! Your former high school buddy lights a cigarette with their Zippo and then gleefully presses the cherry into the cover of a text they were “forced” to read in the past. 

Take that! Ha ha! “I hate reading!”

Cheers! High fives! Fist bumps!

BICs and Zippos smell different due to the lighter fluids but they still function the same.

They both burn and destroy.

Ash leads to extinction. In theory.

You feel good about yourself! You’re protecting all of those who can’t handle the ideas on the ink and paper pulp! It’s an act of morality on your part!  After all, you know what’s best! Pat yourself on the back, buddy!

The USSR knew it. The Taliban knew it, too! And North Korea knows now!

And so do you!

Those ideas are smoldering as the fire flushes your face and crackles and are dangerous but going down the drain of intellectualism where they belong! 

Look at you! You’re a hero! A super man among wonderful women! Hurrah!

You hear the cheers around you. Is the keg finally tapped?!  Is someone grilling hot dogs?! Burgers? Probably. It’s a party!  Yippee! They’re bringing out the relish and ketchup and starting to set the picnic table next to you with the rest of the literary kindling. 

You feel the heat from the pile of burning books get increasingly warm as the shouts get increasingly loud.

Is that sweat on you from the heat or your own excitement?

Look at all of that ash! The scraps of burnt paper soars up in the air like snowflakes in reverse! And you started the fire! (Has it always been burning since the world’s been turning?) 

 You’d try to catch the paper on your tongue if the words weren’t so… dangerous. 

And you don’t want those words on your tongue: in or out. That means soap in your mouth and internalizing the thoughts on the page like blotter acid.

However, destruction never felt so satisfying! Better find some ice water to cool yourself down.

When was the last time you got so worked up? Wait. Better not go there…

Make sure there aren’t any of those annoying journalists around. They might actually be observant of what’s happening and get you in trouble by reporting the truth about what you’re doing! 

After all, the free-press is the true “Enemy of the People” nowadays!

Right?!

Thank goodness your home isn’t that near that burning pile of flames and immorality! And, hey, it’s not like you’re one of those pesky protestors; you have “morals and values.” You care! “About the children!”

Hopefully, later on, you can find a talented graphic designer to cook up the slick logo to go on your armband via Photoshop!

You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

— Harlan Ellison, science fiction writer

Ok. Let’s get back to reality; or some version of it.

As an educator who has taught “controversial” English literature for over ten years, I’ve noticed that the political climate in our fine state seems to be going in an unsavory direction in regards to our curriculum. And, no, this isn’t an attempt at rabble-rousing against school administration or religious groups or the communities in general but rather an attempt to address this concern on a statewide level. 

The national level might be more apt.

While I don’t actually foresee a proverbial bonfire kindled by “naughty” books and Beatles albums in our community, what’s been going down in central Iowa is especially alarming in regards to how Iowa’s English educators are perceived and their content; and a lot of them have no control over it! 

Two senators  (Sen. Jake Chapman, and Sen. Brad Zaun ) have publicly threatened to jail educators/admin/librarians for using “pornographic” books that minorities (and majorities) find relatable. 

The “trickle-down” theory has some truth to it and it freaks me out.

Those in the field know that most young people have it rough, and an educator worth their salt can pick up on this. I dealt with it myself as a young man of the class of 2004. Poverty, abuse, and mental illness are some of the common issues that we address. We deal with this on a regular basis. It’s part of the gig and we are professionals.

‘Nuff said. 

These books help kids navigate the challenges they will inevitably face in life in the future and those they are handling now. One of my peers shared a story about a young woman who said that she enjoyed seeing herself in the books and that she wasn’t alone in this world or an oddity.

There’s a benefit for seeing life in a different perspective, regardless of whether you agree with it or not.”

— Jon Fisher

These books  also encourage critical thinking and meaningful discussions for those who haven’t yet experienced the joy that is the transition from adolescence to adulthood. There’s a benefit for seeing life in a different perspective, regardless of whether you agree with it or not.

 I find it rewarding to have friends on the opposite end of my own political/religious spectrum; it’s made me a more well-rounded person. Our commonalities as human beings outweigh our differences.

“Choice” seems to be the word thrown around lately on either side of the political spectrum. I cannot think of one colleague of mine who would force a student to read something considered so morally abhorrent and, if there was an issue, not at least offer an alternative text upon parent approval so the student can acquire the same skills as their peers.

None of us live in Mayberry, folks, and educators (and other staff that serve your kids and community) are not the wimps we’re sometimes made out to be.  Yes, like in every profession, some are better than others, but I speak for the ones who care about our jobs, and being a positive figure in some kid’s darker world is the highlight of our days.

Trust your kids. Trust us.