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Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons

by on September 26th, 2013

What do you associate with the 70s? Tie-dye? Free love? An excess of denim? Book burnings?

One North Dakota high school’s furnace was fed (among other famous works) 32 copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, which members of the school board deemed to be “garbage” on account of the book’s obscene language (to which, of course, high school students would never otherwise have been exposed).

That same month, Vonnegut himself sent the board president a scathing reply, which can be found in full on Letters of Note. Here’s an excerpt:

…you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books–books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.

I like to believe that when a person or group tries to ban a book or otherwise keep it out of a young person’s reach, they aren’t doing it to be mean, but are acting instead on some protective instinct. What’s troubling, though, is that restricting access to literature implies not only that these people don’t trust young readers to critically assess the materials for themselves — but that they’re afraid that they have failed to adequately prepare their children to make such an assessment.

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