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Brave New World banned from High School curriculum (seattleweekly.com)
282 points by mfukar on Nov 18, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 160 comments

The Enlightenment was premised on the broad idea that people were rational and that, once education became widespread, reason would eventually stamp out superstition and other evils and would cause humanity to want to promote and defend liberty. This thinking broadly underlies the idea that we are continuing to progress as a species and will ultimately learn to solve the problems that historically have beset us.

This sort of episode should serve to remind us that passion and prejudice are ever at-the-ready to spring up and override reason.

On the side of reason:

1. You have a classic work of literature that is widely recognized as an important indictment of totalitarian societies, something that young people in a free society should presumably regard as a staple of their learning.

2. You have a significant historical work that is a product of its times, which sound learning should suggest ought to be taken on its own terms, notwithstanding that society has changed since then in what it regards as acceptable cultural references. Again, even if regressive, one would think those raised in a free society would encourage its study, if nothing else than to understand why the older cultural references existed and why people accepted and later rejected them (if that is indeed what happened).

3. You have reasonable arguments that the references to "savages," taken in context, were not intended to be demeaning at all but were essentially a literary device used to promote the themes of the work. Again, in a free society, one would think these would be topics that ought to be debated as part of coming to grips with a classic work.

On the side of passion and prejudice:

1. You have public school systems that are charged with developing strong young minds and yet willingly succumb to the premise that some forms of expression ought to be censored or circumscribed at the whims of pressure groups in the community.

2. You have serious subjects being resolved by supposedly responsible public officials at the level of pure emotion.

3. You have what amounts to open demagoguery holding sway over that which scholars would widely if not unanimously oppose.

The stunning thing here is how one-sided this all was, with cravenly officials scarcely even putting up resistance. The next thing you know, they will be banning books that use the word "niggardly." Based on the logic on display here, that is surely next in line.

The next thing you know, they will be banning books that use the word "niggardly."

Worth pointing out, because when I saw this word while reading Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf recently I did a double-take, that niggardly has absolutely nothing to do with "niggers".

Niggardly means "miserly" or "stingy". It is based on "niggard", not "nigger", which means the same - a miser, a stingy person. The roots of this word are:

Derived from the Old Norse verb nigla, meaning "to fuss about small matters". Cognate to the English word "niggle", which retains the original Norse meaning.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/niggard has further information:

This word, along with its adverbial form niggardly, should be used with caution. Owing to the sound similarity to the highly inflammatory racial epithet nigger, these words can cause unnecessary confusion and unintentional offense. The word is not related to the word nigger (a corruption of the Spanish word negro, meaning "black"), though someone unfamiliar with the word niggardly might take offense due to the phonetic similarity between the words.

Talk about an unhelpful coincidence. I wonder how many words fall out of disuse not because of their meaning but because of their phonetic similarity to words considered offensive.

I guess the philosopher Kant would have had some problems with his name in English. (In German Kant just sounds very similar to the name for edge Kante, and not female anatomy.)

But I guess you get around that impasse by just pronouncing it wrong. (German pronunciation: [ɪˈmaːnu̯eːl ˈkant])

I've had philosophical discussions with Germans that ended abruptly because one party suddenly exclaimed 'Kant!'

Could be me. I'm not a friend of Kant's philosophy.

Did you mean Khaaaaaant! ?

A great many I would imagine.

Homonyms are also overtaken by many an overbearing counterpart or outright co-option as slang (i.e. queer, gay, faggot, et al) Language is a fascinating thing to me. It's dynamism is rooted in it's ties to self expression and may only be second to the web itself.

Sadly, it doesn't FEEL like we live in particularly enlightened times... Although, objectively, we are probably simply living in amplified times - more people, more connections, more communication will lead to more progress than at any other time, but also to more situations like this.

I think the problem, as is often the case, comes down to incentives. School officials have few incentives to make decisions on the side of reason, which may be difficult or unpopular, and many incentives to make "popular" decisions, which tend to err on the side of passion and prejudice. Exploring why that is the case is a true rabbit hole...

We live in a time where a book being removed from curriculum (not even "banned" outright) at some random Seattle high school is a story we're all here talking about.

That's not bad. Could be a whole lot worse.

Yes, but will someone do something to prevent it?

At least I have the convenient excuse I live in Brazil. ;-)

On your point #2 on the side of reason, you seem to be saying that the references to savages are understandable as a product of their times, which is frankly false.

The references to savages are a timeless indictment of imperial powers like those referenced in the book. The woman in question clearly has not read it, as it is really on her side.

There's already been a war on the word niggardly:


4. A brave new world is set in LONDON, UK. Not that many native Americans in that neighborhood.

It's true that the book is set in London, but I believe that the 'native reservation' that the characters visit is in fact in the US.

Or was it South America? I should read that book again.

Interestingly one German translation is set in Berlin, and uses the names of German capitalists.

The reservation is in New Mexico

It's a single world state and the Savage Reservation where John was born is in New Mexico.

> What Sense-Wilson and her daughter seem to be having trouble grasping is that the "savages" in the book are only called "savages" because the mainstream society which they aren't a part of is so perverted. In reality, Huxley's savages are indeed the heroes…

Indeed. The “savage” reads Shakespeare, which no one else in the book does anymore, for example.

It’s just like people wanting to ban Huck Finn because it uses the word “nigger,” without realizing the friendship between Huck and Jim shows just how silly racism actually is, or how the novel basically satirizes slave ownership by making Huck explicitly contemplate the “immorality” of helping a slave escape.

What we really need is some good civil disobedience on the part of teachers. When my highschool schooldistrict banned Huck Finn, my 10th grade english teacher assigned it as an optional assignment with a shitton of bonus credit. He explained why he was willing to do this by pointing out that teachers have an absolutely nuts union. They couldn't do more than give him a slap on the wrist.

Now, is Huck Finn that important as a piece of literature? Arguably. However what definitely was important was that all his students learned a good lesson about censorship and having a proper disrespect for authority when needed.

I'm not sure that's true. Civil Disobedience is a tool to draw attention to a broken system. So in the 1950s and 1960s I don't believe most white Americans realized segregation was a problem (remember segregation was largely gone from the North and West by 1950: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_segregation_in_the_Unite...). So Civil Disobedience was necessary to draw people's attention to the problems still in the South.

Here almost everyone knows this woman is crazy they just don't want to confront her on it. So the civil disobedience you suggest would draw attention to the wrong problem (censorship) and leave the right problem (crazy people getting their way) untouched.

Is it really "crazy people getting their way" when the crazy person complains, the school says, "oh yeah, it's banned, uh huh", and then everyone reads it anyway? To me, that sounds more like getting the crazy person to STFU as quickly as possible.

Sometimes you have to pretend to throw your principles away until the next shiny object comes along.

Yeah, and the next shiny thing that comes along is personal freedom, free speech and some "crazy person" complains and you just "pretend" to throw away your principles to make them shut up.

'and then everyone reads it anyway' And when the time comes some simpleton that just takes orders and follows the law to the letter will come and throw you into prison for reading it.

Are you serious?

What I'm saying is this:

Person A: "I hate foo."

Person B: "Oh, yeah, me too, it's banned."

Person A: "Great!"

Person B: "NOT!"

but person A is already bored with the issue, so everyone is happy.

They also learned that having a good union makes it difficult to be fired.

It seems to me that in case such as this the ones who ban the book haven't really read it. Anyone who reads "Brave New World" and actually thinks about it will see its true message, and anyone who reads "Huck Finn" and actually thinks about it won't find its use of the word "nigger" objectionable.

The problem is that it is easier to jump to a conclusion than it is to stop and think.

> The problem is that it is easier to jump to a conclusion than it is to stop and think.

I think the problem is that our society gives in to stupid people if they scream loud enough. There always has been and always will be fools in the world. People who don't think, don't read and jump to anger as their first reaction.

The difference here is the fool got her way because a school board full of people not wanting to cause trouble backed down rather than confront her.

I think you've nailed it. Bill Maher asked the media '[C]ould you please stop pitting the ignorant vs. the educated and framing it as a "debate."' Acknowledging ignorant views and handling those who hold them with kids gloves is just another of many possible paths to Idiocracy.


One of the cornerstones of democracy is that the ignorant will chose who also governs the educated if they are numerous enough.

> The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. - Winston Churchill

Sadly true...

s/cornerstones of/major bugs in/ There. Fixed that for you.

No. It is one of the cornerstones. Democracy is about being treated as equal according to the law . Anyone who thought that was a bug and tried to "fix it" ended up bringing authoritarianism, slavery and less liberty.

One could argue that it's the nature of democracy to equalize stupid people to smart people.

Of course, there's a subtle distinction between treating all people the same, and giving in to 'fools', that is left as an exercise to the prospective citizen.

  The problem is that it is easier to jump to a conclusion
  than it is to stop and think.
Which is, in some ways, a theme in Brave New World.

> anyone who reads "Huck Finn" and actually thinks about it won't find its use of the word "nigger" objectionable.

I've read Huck Finn (and Tom Sawyer) as required in high school. I am also black. As a product of it's day, I understand the context in which the language is being used but that didn't make it any less demeaning and frankly the only effect it had on me was to make me not want to read any more Mark Twain works. Requiring me to read these works and expecting me to appreciate its message is a lot like saying you should admire the boxing skills of the mugger who's beating you up.

I am perfectly fine with allowing students to study these works on their own or to write reports on them, but I don't think students should be required to read them.

I find your comment as baffling as the article under discussion and for much the same reason.

That reason being...?

I can't speak for absconditus but...

It's my belief that no one has the right not to be offended and I would rather live in a society of people that are brought up to be exposed to realities of our history and culture that offend them.

I say let kids think for themselves and sometimes be offended. Expose them to religious writings; it's part of who we are (no, I'm not religious). Let them read the writings of dictators to get inside the heads of men that did terrible things to better understand history. etc.

What would we have to lose other than to have a society of people that better understand the world and the history that brought us here?

I say let kids think for themselves and sometimes be offended.

I totally agree - let them think for themselves and let them read and research what they want. Forcing them to do so on the other hand helps no one.

YMMV. Like I wrote, my exposure to Mark Twain just resulted in me not going anywhere near his other works.

What would we have to lose other than to have a society of people that better understand the world and the history that brought us here?

Life experience was a much better instructor to me than nigger Jim.

"I totally agree - let them think for themselves and let them read and research what they want. Forcing them to do so on the other hand helps no one."

I have to disagree here. Certainly, you can make the "at least they're reading something!"-type of argument. That is, when you let them read Twilight or something of similarly less literary value than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, well, "at least they're reading something!" I think this is doing a disservice to "the kids", though.

I mean, it's a tough argument. It sucks that we can't just make kids be seriously interested in literature, science, and mathematics. It's quite possibly (probably?) an indictment of our teachers that 95% (totally made up statistic) of kids who read Huck Finn just don't get it. I mean, I know I didn't when I was 14 and had to read it.

"As a product of it's day, I understand the context in which the language is being used but that didn't make it any less demeaning..."

I can't imagine what it was like to be a black kid being forced to read Huck Finn in school. I'm sure most teachers have some cursory 5-minute CYA lecture about how Twain was using vernacular to best illustrate his point about what things really were like in America in the 19th century, but I imagine as a black kid the language was still shocking. As a white kid the language is shocking, but obviously not in the same way. Re: your "as a product of it's day" comment, though, you're completely missing the point! "Nigger" wasn't used extensively in Huck Finn because Twain thought it was the best descriptor or what his readers would be most familiar with, he used it because he was decrying the mindset that makes that word acceptable altogether! Probably the biggest point made in the book was that even Huckleberry Finn, a poor, uneducated, half-illiterate southerner could realize that Jim is no less a human being than he or anyone else, and that his entire worldview has been wrong. Twain was saying "if even the lowly Huckleberry Finn can recognize this, why can't the rest of 19th-century America?"

Let's be honest, understanding subtext and being thoughtfully analytic aren't exactly most teenagers strong suits. So it's easy as a young reader of Huck Finn to chalk it up as just racist garbage with some redeeming attributes. I would encourage you as an older, and presumably more thoughtful, person to re-read it and reconsider your position. Twain is one of America's greatest writers, and while if you've read Huck Finn you've probably read his "greatest"(1) work, there's still a lot else out there worth reading.

(1) - I think it was Hemingway who called Huck Finn "American's Homeric Epic", or something to that effect.

"In reality, Huxley's savages are indeed the heroes…"

The savages aren't the heroes, but rather are there to show the lack of realistic options. Huxley himself favored a psychedelic society, which he wrote about in Island.

Did he actually "favoured" the society in Island? I know that he personally experimenting with drugs during the time he wrote it, but when I read the book I saw it as "Brave New World, governed by a leftist-idealist".

The same principles to manipulate the society on Brave New World are applied on the people of the Island.

You still see people being conditioned to obedience/compliance ("Pavlov used for the good, for love"), you still see use of drugs as a way to escape reality, etc...

Not to mention that is pretty clear that the society is not sustainable. A society that is not able to defend itself from the first menace is like a living organism without an immune system: it either lives in a bubble, or it is not viable.

> Indeed. The “savage” reads Shakespeare, which no one else in the book does anymore, for example.

Keep in mind John is the son of Thomas and Linda, both from outside the reservation, and shares very little with the natives.

It is a bit more nuanced. As pointed out by the appeal record (http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/10-11agendas/111710...) there were three required non-fiction books for the 10th grade list: BNW, Othello, and Lord of the Flies. Apparently all three make reference to native or indigenous people as "savages".

And then apparently in one lecture they promoted an inaccurate view as to why we have reservations.

It's kind of like the Huck Finn example. If you read that book and it says the n-word -- that's one thing. But if the other two required books also say it, then it begins to get a little odd. I think people would reasonably begin to ask, "you couldn't find one book that didn't say nigger/savage in it?"

Although her attacks on the text itself were misplaced and uncalled for.

No, it's worse - the whole episode is a glaring case of illteracy run wild. The original complaint and supporting documentation describes BNW and the other cited works as 'non-fiction.' The complaint about the word 'savage' appears predicated on the assumption that it has never been applied to anyone other than Native Americans. The members of the reconsideration panel seem oblivious to why the objections are so misplaced.

After being notified (via a form letter) of the decision to take it off the curriculum and her right to appeal said decision - which she does, requesting it should be removed from the required reading list for the whole school district and not just that which her daughter attends. Despite attempts by the faculty and principal to explain the meaning of the book she apparently still believes it's a work of non-fiction. Cluelessness all round...at best. At worst, abuse of process as a poor justification for a shakedown.

Here's a story from a local blog that goes into greater detail.


That blog post (and the comments at the end) sure give a really different impression of the event than the article.

Our news media is a narrative driven media. They find their narrative and build the story around that. Details, subtleties, and complexities get shoved under the rug.

For example, look at the health care debate. Headline news for over a year. Here's a quiz, ask 10 people to name 3 concrete aspects of Health Care reform. I tried an not one person game me 3. A few gave me two. The mode was zero concrete aspects.

The narrative never was the bill itself. What everyone did know was that Obama and the Dems won and the Republicans lost, and it it costs a lot of money. For a year of coverage, this was the only narrative. Win/Lose + costs money.

A lot of people wonder if the decline of newspapers means that things like city council meetings don't get coverage. I've discovered that you often get better coverage from reading a couple of blogs -- and there almost certainly will be better targeted blogs than you get from your major city paper.


The person writing the complaint letters repeatedly referred to the books as "non-fiction". See page 10 and 12 in the parent comment's PDF link.

But you weren't quoting it, you were calling them non-fiction yourself... and by any definition possible they are fiction.

I didn't read it that way at all. I read his comment as saying the list has a list of 3 books labelled as mandatory and non-fiction (and an unspecified number of books which maybe be any of optional and fiction), and then giving that list. He didn't call the books anything at any point.

At the point I was writing them I was just paraphrasing the text. When I wrote non-fiction my mind converted it to "fiction".

I'd call it a primed typo. She does use the term non-fiction multiple times, although I don't think anyone could believe they are.

Perhaps we should concentrate on why people are so offended when characters in a book say "nigger" or "savage".

Really? Is that something that you really need to concentrate on?

And honestly, are people that offended? What percentage of ppl in the US care? What percentage of Blacks and NI care about Huck Finn and BNW respectively?

Maybe the saddest thing is that people like Rbanffy will use this to fuel a conspiracy that there is some nationwide outrage around these books, when none exists.

I guarantee you there is a thousand times more outrage in the US over the existence of the Koran.

When did I imply there is a nationwide outrage? I only wonder why that mother was so annoyed by the term "savage" and why others are annoyed by "nigger" in fiction books written generations ago.

"People like Rbanffy"... I am not sure what you intend to imply by that.

45 short years ago, use of the n-word was typically followed up by turning a firehose or a pack of dogs on people who just wanted to be treated like human beings -- this was happening, in modern America, while your parents were in grade school or high school (presumably).

You might not have been aware of that, given that you seem to think that everyone should just get over it and not be offended by things that don't offend you.

The question is not what happened, but what can we do so it never happens again.

By the time the events you mention happened, my family was still coping with having to leave its ancestral home after WWII and having to move to Brazil as refugees.

We can hold grudges for many generations if we want, or we can learn from the past and move on.

I think one of the main lesson we learn is that the past influences today.

And asking children to read books from the past, without giving them the tools and context to understand it, is asking for trouble.

US high schools are a playground of intolerance. At least where I went to high school, having the class read a book that made use of "nigger" would have certainly meant that the Black kids in class would be called nigger after class -- of course when the students were confronted they might say something like, "I was just trying to memorize some key lines from the book".

I'm not against reading books from the past, but I think the teachers need to be prepared to teach it. In this case it appears that the teachers weren't.

It seems to me the teachers were neither prepared to teach the book nor to defend the book in front of the parents. Making a second mistake - taking an important book (after all, we seem to have avoided 1984 just to fall into BNW) off the curriculum - does not correct the first one (not preparing teachers to... teach).

Like I said elsewhere, this whole mess is depressing. Sometimes I wonder if our species will be able to find a way out of this or if I will just wish the cockroaches better luck...

I'm just saying don't be a jerk about it -- it's one thing to say yes, we should teach Huck Finn, another to demean the idea of being offended by the word.

We can only move forward when words like "nigger", "savage", "nazi", "polack", "redneck", "commie" or "yank" provoke no reaction. We don't have to like or approve the past (and certainly not be proud of most of it), but we must limit ourselves to learn from it and not seek retribution for crimes rooted generations ago.

If we don't, we will perpetuate cycles of injustice across generations and invite the worst of our past into our children's future. We must constantly draw lines and learn from our mistakes, even the ones made centuries ago.

We must also be careful on how we preserve our culture and our ways of life. The NA/AD culture shock that's in the root of this present discussion shows us how little progress our species made in deciding where to place the assimilation/integration divide. We try hard to be multi-cultural but, in the end of the day, we are much closer to naked apes than we may be comfortable thinking. Most of the battles we must fight were bred into our brains and we must fight them within ourselves.

In America, the n-word is worse than all of the other words on your list, and you still don't seem to understand why. One generation ago, or the present for that matter is not some distant "generations ago". So go ahead with your one-man culture shock, the rest of us will just think you're a jerk.

I do understand why the "n-word" brings up the worst in us. That's why we must fight, not the word, but the worst in us.

Please, don't think I am a jerk. Our differences, be them skin color, language or cuisine are not as important as we make them. If we face those differences, I trust we can solve them. If we had done that a couple generations ago, we could have prevented a whole lot of suffering.

It's not exactly banned, but just removed from their curriculum. It will still be found in the school's library.

Yup, banned is very different from 'removed from reading list'.

There are lots of books that aren't on the reading list.

Are they all "banned"?

No; however, they aren't on the reading list for potentially different reasons. This book (I have not read it) was on the reading list, but has now been stripped from the reading list because someone didn't like it and was vocal about this.

A very contrived example of a similar vein would be: Cooking with a Microwave isn't on the reading list. 1984 isn't on the reading list because some bureaucrat didn't like how it portrayed the government.

Again, I have not read this book and know nothing of how it portrays individuals in it, except that some person didn't like this portrayal. I know nothing of the accuracy of the portrayal, the intention of the portrayal or anything like that. I am attempting to create two instances of a book "not being on the reading list" and their absence from it being due to two starkly different reasons. Any reading beyond that is a misunderstanding and a misrepresentation of what I said and attempted to say

My point is that "banned" requires some attempt to interfere with access.

Taking something off a reading list isn't interfering with access. ("They won't read it if it isn't on the list" doesn't change things as it applies to everything that's not on the list and you're arguing that the reason matters.)

There's nothing wrong with objecting to how a reading list is selected, but no matter what the reason, that process does not ban anything.

Yes labelling something as a "ban" has persuasive power, but that doesn't make the label accurate.

Such mis-labelling actually makes it harder to get people to react to actual wolves, so to speak.

You're right, it isn't banning. How would you describe it? If we are to raise a banner against this person's effect on their area, we need to have a precise word that not only describes what's going on, but also reflects to the reader the strength of the defender's stance.

> but also reflects to the reader the strength of the defender's stance.

I don't know what you're trying to say here. Is it equivalent to "the person making the decision is a bad person and the person objecting is a good person"?

If you're claiming that the reason for the decision is bad, shouldn't you argue that point with some specificity? (There are lots of reasons why a decision might be bad - surely you should mention which ones apply.)

Why do we need a banner? Is the cause so lost that we must resort to equivalent rhetoric to win the book back to the reading list? And would a banner even be useful? For something nearly equivalent to a banner, how about mailing a bunch of copies of the book to everyone responsible for getting it removed.

My guess is that the sole objection was the parts that describe the casual, multi-partner sex that's encouraged in the civilized world. The author's attitude towards the practice probably doesn't matter to the people who want this to remain unread by high school students.

> This book (I have not read it)

You really should. It's a very good one. But don't ask me for anti-depressants when you finish it.

Defacto ban.

I'm not sure why this is being voted down... maybe because there isn't anything to back it up. But, I do think in a way it is a defacto ban. There will be some kids who seek out this book, but chances are those are not the kids that need to read this book. When you take important literature out of the classroom, you are preventing the kids who would at least pick up the main ideas from getting at those main ideas.

Edit: Just realized a key difference, I'm used to the GCSE reading lists not the US-style 'Required' Reading list. I remember getting Terry Pratchett novels in my reading list.

A defacto ban is "We're removing it from our reading list, removing it from our library... but we not discouraging our students from reading the book". Removing it from a reading list isn't a defacto ban, it's modernization. If the kids at a specific school don't seem to respond well to a text, PULL IT. I don't care what text, even if it's one of my own beloveds just PULL IT and put in something the children will read and will learn from.

Brave New World is a classic, beyond perhaps, but if kids today aren't learning from it then so long. For every new book that goes on the list, an old one is going to come off of it. I'd much rather see kids get something like Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett that they'll respond to. Fuck, give them Harry Potter or a goddamn Halo novel if the kids will actually read it.

> If the kids at a specific school don't seem to respond well to a text, PULL IT.

That seems like a very weird understanding of education to me. The whole point of the exercise is getting children to read something they might otherwise miss. If students oppose a book's content - very good, you have a debate running, and you can clearly learn from that (e.g., Huxley's use of the term savages does not dehumanize them, quite the contrary).

Education is not about taking the easy path to something, it's about taking the hard path, and learning on the way.

> Huxley's use of the term savages does not dehumanize them, quite the contrary

I would go as far and explain those parents who are so afraid of it, that it's just a word that means something for the "civilized" characters of the book that's very different than it means to us or them.

And that "civilized" is also just a word.

Meaning is in the brain of the reader. A book is only dehydrated knowledge. You have to add a brain to it.

But the problem with your argument is that, at least according to the article, the kids don't have a problem with the book. It's just one parent who doesn't like it and is preventing it from being assigned.

Sorry, it's just the opposite:

> it seems a Native American student who was required to read the book took issue with the its depiction of native people. The girl's mom, Sarah Sense-Wilson, agreed...

The child misunderstood the terminology being used and the parent likely didn't read the book to comprehend the difference. However, on face value we have no way of understanding the full situation. Is this a school with a high-percentage of native students where the terminology, time and time again will be misunderstood?

Just because this is the first student to complain and the first parent to be a decent enough (if misguided) parent to actually follow through with their child's complaint, doesn't mean this isn't the first child to be turned off in this school from the terminology.

Change 'Savage' to Nigger and you'll offend black students in other areas, perhaps Chink and you'll offend Asian students. It just happens that this book has bad terminology for the students that were reading it that is preventing at least this student from getting to the meaning behind the words.

Furthermore, this could all have been avoided by competent teachers. Perhaps introducing the book before requiring students to read it would have avoided this. We're dealing with 80 year old books with 80 year old social mores and terms. You're going to get problems sooner or later somewhere or other. It's inevitable, get over it assign a different book with the same message.

Or keep the book and hire competent teachers. And then pay those competent teachers the salary they deserve for training the next generation.

Yes, but that would require people to actually want to pay taxes for the things they want. It would be like paying for competent non-tazer psycho cops.

Americans pay more for their crappy schools and incompetent teachers than every other rich country in the world pays for their good schools and competent teachers.

Yes, but that's just because the government butt-fucks unions. I've never seen any country that actively worships its unions as badly as America. If automobile unions didn't have such huge wages and crazy pensions and benefits, the auto-sector wouldn't have collapsed from being ridiculously uncompetitive. The only reason the school sector hasn't collapsed is because it's not selling anything to go broke off of.

It's notable that the US is one of the few countries where private schools have a huge lead on public schools. I remember when I was in highschool in the UK that it actually came out that (on average) private school students graduated a grade-average lower than public school students. It's good if you're in a slum area, but if you're in a slum area you don't have the money to pay for private school to begin with.

Exactly. The purpose of removing this book from the reading list is to reduce the exposure the student body has to it. The intended effects of "removing the book from the reading list" and "banning the book" are identical.

Because the intent is the same, it should be treated and vilified as a ban.

Really banning it would be a more effective tool to make sure that more students read it.

Only mentioning because a few have repeated the error: it's de facto, 2 words. But I agree that's the right interpretation of what's going on.

"the text lacks literary value"

Oh boy... Why not ban Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 while we are at it. And let's burn all copies too.

What kind of spineless school principal is this?

People don't know what literary value is - since they read so few books, how could they possible know what it is?

Aye, the irony here is sickening. And that a single parent who obviously hasn't actually read a book in ages is able to negatively affect an entire school board that easily is sad beyond measure.

Sometimes people are wrong. In fact it happens a lot. Apparently calling someone out for being wrong is as bad as calling someone out for being fat. Can't have controversy!

Huxley is spinning in his grave.

> Huxley is spinning in his grave.

Huxley was cremated.

The argument as to whether _Brave New World_ has literary value is completely separate from _Fahrenheit 451_ and _1984_.

Please, make the argument that it isn't the case on this particular book, but I'd say no book belongs in English classes because of the warning or political message it delivers. At the high school level, different (academically higher?) standards are looked at. This may include _Brave New World_, or it might not, but taking offense that a popular dystopian fiction novel isn't in the curriculum any longer isn't the right argument: removing an important work on literature and replacing it with a less important one is.

The importance of the political message embedded in those books has no more relation to their literary value (which is something quite hard to define) than their political correctness (or lack of it) that offends an overzealous (and ignorant) mother.

I found the idea of banning a politically loaded book (that speaks of, among other things, banning books) irresistibly funny. I am not sure Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 are required reading in the US, but they should be. They should be required reading everywhere.

I doubt that makes it OK to remove an important work of literature and replace it with a more important one, neither.

Especially in wealthier areas, school administrations have to bend over backwards to please parents or they really will sue the school districts over insane things like this.

No. Their job is to educate kids.

Unfortunately, they bend over backwards to please kids who complain to their parents about how crappy their school is.

"No. My job is to educate kids." will not stop a parent from suing the school.

I wish we'd been able to unilaterally decree books as lacking literary value at my school and have them removed from the reading list.

Screw you Thomas Hardy, you're off the curriculum, some 14 year old has decided you lack literary value because they find all those descriptions of countryside dull and don't want to read them.

(Obviously in this instance that 14 year old would have been me and I'd have been right but I'd also have said something similar about Dickens and been about as spectacularly wrong as it's possible to be).

Maybe we are missing the point when we think school is about making kids happy.

1984 made me miserable. But it also helped make me into the man I am now.

I wish I could get 1984 banned. Far too many believe that saying "it's just like 1984!" somehow makes it a valid argument against something.

Really I just want a required class in formal logic for everyone.

And what exactly does a faulty logic have to do with Orwell's dystopia?

Same thing with "It's just like Hitler!", "It's not what the founding father's wanted!", etc.

I many times support the formal logic requirement.

"It's not what the Founding Fathers wanted" is not generally an issue of logic. If something is flagrantly against the values they espoused, then whether or not that thing should be opposed is simply a matter of your values. If it's not entirely clear whether they would have supported something but there could be reasonable arguments either way, then it's a matter of opinion. In neither case is it an example of faulty logic.

I could explain what I'm referring to, but then, why do so when wikipedia does it so well?


So why doesn't it exactly? What exactly do you think formal logic is and what is it used for? I mean, this sort of thing is an observation and an insinuation not a syllogism. Who needs all these formal logic classes again? The structure of the society in 1984 is widely considered "bad" and it is quite clear what is meant by saying something like "this is like 1984" when it deal with something quite analogous. It's quite clear what is meant by this and the reasoning is very evident. Now, you could counter with something like "No, no I think we need Big Brother because ..." or "We must burn books because ..." I don't think everyone has to construct formal syllogisms for all their arguments, presumably we are intelligent people rather than some kind of x86 processor that can't deal with anything beyond very formal, rigid syntax.

You don't happen to work at Amazon?

Thanks for the laugh. This discussion makes me want to grab a box of Prozac and eat the pills like cereal...

where by "literary value" I think they mean dragons and vampires

Or perhaps they're referring to potential merchandising revenue...

I realize the 'ban' is because of the Native American/savages angle, but now that the book comes up I'd like to ask: I read Brave New World expecting a dystopic society, but failed to understand why the world that is described is dystopic. Huxley seems to go out of his way to ascribe all sorts of pejorative attributes to the society in the book, to the point where the promiscuous sex lives of the inhabitants are presented so prominently that I got the feeling he did this mostly to instigate the (presumably morally much more strict) early 20th century reader against it. Still, he described a world where the vast majority of people were happy, actually happy and content with their lives, and managed to live those lives without much hardship or grief.

Now maybe if one takes the position that hardship and grief are somehow morally virtuous (a position that is surprisingly common and that I as, I think, a rational person have a very hard time understanding, especially since the reasons for it are very seldom given in coherent theories) there is merit to this argument. But even then I still fail to see why the 'savages' in the book, or the protagonist, are somehow morally better than the other people.

So if anyone has read the book and wants to explain why they feel the world described in there is bad, I'd be very interested to hear why they think so.

(I'm leaving aside some what I think are minor issues, like the apparent destructive qualities of soma addictions - that was one of those other points I felt Huxley just put in there to get his point across, the technical deficiencies of the drug are irrelevant to the moral position he's (presumably) arguing).

You don't find it dystopic because the Brave New World so frighteningly resembles ours. The people on the article actually behaves like the idiot mainstream inhabitants of the Brave New World.

That you don't even find it dystopic is probably another sign that it's actually the parody of the world we're living it; superficial, commercial, filled with porn and vulgarity, reality TV and shitty music, individualistic and thoughtless. We don't even need a Thought Police to enforce proper thinking.

You're ascribing all sorts of moral judgments to this world but don't make a case for why any of these things are bad, if they manage to make people feel (truly) content and happy. What's wrong with reality TV, Lady Gaga and advertisements if that's what people like? Do you honestly thing people would be better off if they didn't have those things and only had a Chopin record to put on at night? Maybe I'm reading your comment wrong but the pseudo-intellectual snobbery, not backed up with anything but an general contempt for anything that is mainstream, irks me. I guess in the same way the Brave New World did.

(that said, calling the society of Brave New World to be similar to ours is hyperbole, and I'd pretty sure that it's not why I feel the way I do about the book. Don't forget that the 1930's had their own 'shitty music and vulgarity', in the form of jazz and skirts that showed ankles. It's so easy to make an extremely generalized case for why Brave New World resembles any society; hell I figure that some grumpy inhabitants of Pompei would make the same argument about their city 2000 years ago.).

> You're ascribing all sorts of moral judgments to this world but don't make a case for why any of these things are bad, if they manage to make people feel (truly) content and happy.

Most probably sheep are perfectly happy in their pen. Being perfectly happy because you don't think about why you live and what you may be good for isn't in my opinion a good way to be happy. My opinion is that human being should aim higher than living an happy cattle life. These are personal values, but I think that some values are better than others, and that general relativism isn't good.

And about the intellectual snobbery : I am a proud intellectual snob. Intellectual snobs know better, that's why I chose to be one :)

"...a good way to be happy..." ... "...should aim higher than living an happy cattle life..."

I'm not sure. Some other posters also brought up a similar argument. I'm not convinced that there is a moral ordering or ways to be happy, as long as the criteria are constrained to internal ones (i.e., as long as the criteria don't affect others - a society of 9 male rapists and one woman is presumably one where 90% of the population is happy, but that doesn't make it a just or right society)

I don't agree that hardship and/or grief are required for great achievements. On the contrary, I think that most achievements are done by people who are already in the 5th layer of Maslow's hierarchy. It's subjective what 'great achievement' is, but in the trend of this site, let's take some big software companies; were Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg living in mud huts, going to sleep every night feeling hungry? I don't know the details about any of them, but it seems from a cursory Wikipedia glance that all of them grew up in environments where the 'happy cattle life' was the norm, and it was some other internal motivation that drove them to create and not a desire to get away from hardship.

Also, note that I didn't say 'intellectual snobbery', but 'pseudo-intellectual snobbery'. Being a rebel for rebellion's sake, agitating against everything that is mainstream, is not intellectualism, it's mostly a trait of wannabe students and hipsters who are still in their formative years and derive their self image from contrasting themselves with the rest of society. Now actual intellectual thought can also be contrary to mainstream thinking of course, but it needs to be backed up with solid reasoning from data, axioms etc. and not with 'most people are stupid, so what most people are thinking is wrong' (even leaving apart that by definition it's impossible for most people to be stupid, unless one sets the benchmark for stupidity at an arbitrarily high level, at which point it's just definition again).

> I'm not convinced that there is a moral ordering or ways to be happy, as long as the criteria are constrained to internal ones ...

This is an interesting and debatable matter. I'm probably not really convinced too :)

> I don't agree that hardship and/or grief are required for great achievements.

Neither do I, but I don't seem to have implied it.


With one picture we can explain reality TV, crappy music, Chopin and Huxley.

The dystopia is in that it's become not so much a society as a machine. A cog is not discontented with its position in a machine, but much like the cog, it's difficult to truly consider the people in Brave New World alive.

I know it's a bit of a value judgment, but while happiness is hardly something to look down on, I find it difficult to believe that it's the only end worth pursuing.

I guess I agree partly with the last part, but then what others are? Does being unhappy make one be alive? Does being discontent? Or is there moral virtue in the 'natural' state of things, not being changed by human intervention; is it the fact the happiness is made in the book, not by the happy person him or herself, but by 'the machine', the society? If so, shouldn't we stop all state intervention that tries to improve citizen's lives?

I guess that I understand the gut feeling of uneasiness with the society presented in the book. It's that I can't find a rational explanation for it that bugs me. (one could do this one away by dismissing the value of rationality, but that I don't want to do - it's a value judgment too there, but one I hope people on here would understand and agree with).

Yeah, discontent definitely means being alive. If you're fat, dumb and happy to the extreme degree portrayed in the book, then you're going to live a worthless life from the perspective of any individual creativity or accomplishment.

I'm not sure what your intention is - are you arguing that discontent does mean being alive, and that creativity or accomplishment can only come from discontent, or are you being sarcastic?

1) and 2) -- it's hard to really feel alive if you live your life in a mundane, average state of happy-enough, and you're certainly not going to accomplish anything worthwhile.

I read Brave New World expecting a dystopic society, but failed to understand why the world that is described is dystopic.

I'll quote a passage from the Wikipedia article on it that expresses just one frightening aspect of the society described in the book.

Natural reproduction has been done away with and children are created, 'decanted' and raised in Hatcheries and Conditioning Centres, where they are divided into five castes (which are further split into 'Plus' and 'Minus' members) and designed to fulfill predetermined positions within the social and economic strata of the World State. Fetuses chosen to become members of the highest caste, 'Alpha', are allowed to develop naturally while maturing to term in "decanting bottles", while fetuses chosen to become members of the lower castes ('Beta', 'Gamma', 'Delta', 'Epsilon') are subjected to in situ chemical interference to cause arrested development in intelligence or physical growth.


The book also explicitly describes that these castes are perfectly happy being who they are. They are happy and proud to be in their caste and have no desires to be in another caste. All inhabitants are happy and feel at place in life. So now where's the problem? Is there an inherent moral evil in social strata, when those people have no desire for class mobility?

I mean I'm all in favor of letting and encouraging people to develop themselves into who they want to be, but the society in the book is one where everybody is everything he/she wants to be! I fail to understand the moral wrong in that.

Everyone in BNW is effectively programmed at birth. The system seems designed to suppress innovation, which many value highly. It could be argued that unhappiness drives innovation, productivity and progress, in much the same way profit motive does.

My desire to be a productive person stems from my experiences with short term happiness. No matter how many movies, video games or hobbies I enjoy in the short term, I will eventually feel a lack of deeper fulfillment if I don't accomplish something significant.

The happiness offered by the system in BNW seems to provide only this fleeting happiness without addressing the longer term "contented" style of happiness. I think this is what people react negatively to. It is hard to imagine a "cheat" to fulfillment because so many people spend their lives searching for it unsuccessfully.

The characters in BNW have apparently been modified or conditioned to lack this drive. Or their drive has been subverted to meet the goals of society. Whether you think this type of happiness can or should be provided artificially is up to you.

Everyone is happy and proud to be in their caste because their brains have been programmed to be happy and proud about their status in life.

Does slavery become alright as long as you brainwash slaves into thinking they are content?

"Does slavery become alright as long as you brainwash slaves into thinking they are content?"

Well that's my question. It stops being "slavery" at the point that the "slave" doesn't feel like a slave anymore and is happy about their situation, doesn't it? I see on television (yeah, I know...) people in SM lifestyles who go out on the internet to find somebody who they can give complete control over their lives, much like a slave I guess. Is that OK? I see no problem with it.

I know you say 'thinking they are content', which is different from what the book says (and I'm assuming the SM slave is also truly content, and not made believe to be so, or psychologically damaged to the point they can't recognize content). The book says that they were actually content, I'm reasoning from that assumption. I guess one could say 'it's impossible to make people truly content through these means"; fine, that's a valid position, and I agree. I'm just going from abstract assumptions as they were framed in the book.

I had very similar thoughts when I read the book. It seems to me that if there is no desire for class mobility then strata are not evil.

However, humans being what they are, it seems impossible to guarantee that lack of desire. This is (kind of) demonstrated by Bernard's discontent and by John the Savage's inability to cope with the society. Both were weak cases. Bernard because he was privileged, and John because he was a total outsider that was not acclimated to the culture.

I had a similar problem at the end of the book, in that it's difficult to describe a world where poverty does not exist and where no one really suffers as a dystopia. ("a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.")

Why I feel it's a bad world... Stunting natural fetal growth and then torturing small children to condition them into complacent compliance with their destined roles seems morally indefensible to me.

(Incidentally, soma was repeatedly described as side-effect free. I'm curious where you read it as having destructive qualities.)

"and then torturing small children to condition them into complacent compliance with their destined roles seems morally indefensible to me."

Yeah that's a good point. Initially I classified that with the 'minor issues' I mentioned, that I felt he just introduced to scare the reader, but revisiting it it seems like it's a pretty fundamental part of the described system, if you can't engineer the fetuses into children who are already happy and OK with their place in society. Then again, it's been a while since I read it, wasn't the engineering meant to produce A or B or whatever type people, and the scene with the children not so much about conditioning their place in society but something else? Sorry I'd have to dig out the book.

(I know this sounds like I'm advocating for engineering fetuses to be complacent children but I'm not - I'm just saying that in the system in the book as a whole I don't see much of a problem with it, much like genetically engineering fetuses to correct for a birth defect, if we could do that.)

"(Incidentally, soma was repeatedly described as side-effect free. I'm curious where you read it as having destructive qualities.)"

The mother of the protagonist, the one who was 'rescued from the savages' (sorry don't remember names), got a severe soma addiction that killed her in the end, no? I don't remember reading explicit mentions of being side-effect free. I thought there were several mentions of a maximum amount that people should take.

My family moved from China to Canada during my high school years. It was Brave New World (along with Animal Farm) that really opened up my eyes what a Communist world I was raised in.

Yes, Huxley could be cruel on his depicting of the native stereotypes (like most elitists during his days). But besides stereotypes, I think it's equally important to educate kids about ideologies -- and the big social and political systems we live in -- with that in mind few literature titles could come even close to Brave New World.

Why do I feel like I'm being indirectly trolled? I mean, this woman can't be serious about this, right? Sad. Seriously, seriously sad...

I was assigned to read Brave New World in high school. I had already read it at home, as it was in the collection of books my parents had in our house when I was growing up. The term "savages" occurs in the book to make a comment about the persons speaking the term, not to make a comment about the persons described as savages.

The best book I was assigned to read in high school was The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I later read most of Potok's other books on my own. A few years ago I reread The Chosen--that is a very fine book for a reader of any age.

>The school eventually agreed, promising to remove the book from students' required reading list and releasing a statement apologizing that the "cultural insensitivity embedded in this book makes it an inappropriate choice as a central text in our 10th grade curriculum."

Anyone who played a part in releasing the statement should be fired for failure to understand the concept of a free society.

The rational for government supported education is that a democracy needs educated citizens to survive. The people involved obviously don't grasp that.

>The people involved obviously don't grasp that.

Or maybe they've just read and understood Brave New World all too well.

If test tube people that the deserving ones and natural born people are the savages, what does that make the poorly educated self righteous kid and the retarded mother?

At least it had nothing to do with the fact that natural born people need to have sex to do so, but I'm sure it'll happen eventually.

Ironically, I'm reading the book now ...

"You can't consume much if you sit still and read books."

I.e. You can't consume much while in the act of consuming?

It takes a couple days for me to "consume" US$5 of books. It takes me a couple seconds to spend the same amount of money during lunch.

This reminds me of the case in a University of Michigan museum where a Native American woman and her son got those little dioramas of native people removed. Apparently after seeing them, her son asked how he could be Native American if Native Americans were dead (because only dead cultures are depicted in the museum).

So this woman, a graduate student, bullied the museum into removing the dioramas.

The book is about sterile, future society. "Savages" is completely relative. We'd all be considered savages by BNW standards.

If that school focused more on educating and less on banning it, the student might have understood the context of the book.

It's not even relative: it's ironic. The term is used ignorantly by the people outside the reservation. The 'Savage' cares for his mother and reads Shakespeare, something that people outside the reservation don't do any more.

It's clear that Huxley does not regard the 'Savage' as being savage.

But we can't have those nuances in our multicultural brave new world! It's the person being offended who decides what's offensive (so long as they belong to a protected group). Four legs good! Two legs bad!

When I read "Brave New World" just last year again. The terms "savage" and "reservation" never once conjured an image of American Indians. Instead I more or less saw the sort of savages one might see in "sanctuary" in the film "logan's run."

Of course in this world it's much easier to be offended than to tolerate. #legalism and #liability is the death of us.

Why do people think they have a right not to be offended? They don't.

This is ridiculous. They also shouldn't teach history because you know someone might be offended the same way.

Hehe. I eagerly await the first German to be offended by the Allies winning WWII. Should be fun to watch. :-)

if you compare history curriculum of different countries, you'll notice that it is already happening, everywhere. Check WWII history, for example, in Japan and China, WWI in Turkey and Armenia, etc...

Brave New World was banned from my 6th grade class. (or, at least, the teacher was told in no uncertain terms to not continue reading it out loud to the class)

Does anyone else find the best books are usually banned? I've heard of this book, and meant to buy it; now I've bought it. This is great PR for the book.

I don't think that removing it from the curriculum is a bad thing. But not for the reasons suggested by the article.

BNW isn't a great piece of literature, imo. I understand it's place in literary history, but it's aged badly, and pretty clunky because of that. The themes are certainly important, and will continue to be retold, I'm sure.

There's great modern literature and contemporary YA fiction that is far more entertaining and tackles equally difficult moral issues.

best comment on the article:

"Brave New World takes place in London... I'm left wondering how many Native American reservations are near London, England."

But it doesn't take place entirely in London.

The reservation is in New Mexico. Two of the characters go on a trip there and meet a white man that lives among the native americans, but is not fully accepted by them.

TThe above is just another comment by someone that does not appear to have read the book.

Now that you mention that, I remember the book a bit better. I personally need to re-read it. It was so long ago and although I liked the book a lot, the experience was spoilt by English Lit class.

Catch22 is another I remember only vaguely but need to reread.

Ironic too is the fact that the book was banned at "Nathan Hale High School." Leave it to literary fools to name a high school for a man who, while depicted as a hero, was uncovered as a spy after confiding that very fact in the people on which he was spying. Nathan Hale was a fool, and so are this school's administrators.

A supreme irony, since on the same HN page this link appears concerning a letter written about Aldous Huxley's "most beautiful death" on November 22, 1963:- http://www.lettersofnote.com/2010/03/most-beautiful-death.ht...

If I buy Brave New World as a result of reading this article, is that ironic? What if it's the Kindle edition? Meta-ironic?

I guess this makes us HN readers savages!

Yet they are all still watching "South Park"?

hehe savages, what will they do next

"the text lacks literary value"

No, but the mother lacks human value.

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