Interesting story out of Edmonton illustrating the dangers of censorship and the Law of Unintended Consequences. Apparently, the Edmonton Public School Board prepared a “books to weed out” list relating to books and stories about First Nations. Well, no surprise there, school boards have been banning books since time immemorial.
Mind you, David Alexander Robinson, an award-winning Aboriginal writer, was somewhat taken aback to find his books – dealing with, amongst other things, residential schools – on the list. No doubt it would come as a surprise to a number of the other award winning Aboriginal writers on the list Hmm, isn’t giving exposure to Aboriginal voices the sort of thing that school boards are supposed be in favour of?
But, it’s telling, the point of the “weed out” list is not to suppress Aboriginal voices (though this wouldn’t be obvious from the coverage on the CBC), rather it’s driven by the purest of politically correct motives. From the website:
Titles recommended for weeding out are not based solely on the age of the title but rather the objectionable content. We recommend weeding out titles containing portrayals of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people in a historical context, stereotypes, misinformation, cultural biases, negative images, and or from monolithic perspectives. Titles awarded recognition in the past would not do so today due to increased cultural awareness of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.
Similarly, Robinson’s books are on the shitlist because they:
[contain] sensitive subject matter and visual inferencing of abuse regarding residential schools.
Can you say “trigger warnings”? Sure, why teach kids about actual history because it’s disturbing.
Teading the reasons for weeding out the various books is a depressing exercise. Some reviews provide no reason for “weeding out” certain books. One book is weeded out despite the fact that it provides a “good historical account of three communities on the Winnipeg River” because it wasn’t written from a First Nations perspective – a good historical account is a good historical account, no matter who wrote it. Apparently, in Edmonton, only one perspective is valid. Others seem to have fallen afoul of reviewer’s sensibilities. Particularly galling is that many of the reviews which call for “weeding out” books, do so despite concluding that the authors are talented First Nation writers. It’s a testament to the illiberality of the current generation of teachers that this list was praised as a “great resource”.
No doubt some of the books on the “weed out” list probably are unsuitable for use in Edmonton Schools (though, if teachers needed to be told that, that’s a different problem). And no doubt others should only be used with older students (though, again, do teachers really need to be told this?). But this case deftly illustrates the practical opposition to censorship – even if you accept that SOME books should be banned, it’s invariably impossible to do so without also banning books that shouldn’t be banned. In this case, in an effort to weed out negative portrayals of First Nations, the Edmonton Public School Board has a banned a generation of award winning First Nations authors.
The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again.