Has My Definition of Censorship Been…Censored?

Reading and Discussion Reflection 1

In his work, Areopagitica, English poet John Milton writes that “books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them” (6).  Through the quotation, Milton eloquently explains the importance and the authority of books. Works of literature are channels for the ideas of people, and as such, literature serves as powerful multi-use tool; they allow people to learn and spread ideas.

Because literature is so connected to a facet of humanity—the need for information—censorship is worthy debate topic. When I sat in class for the first time on Wednesday, January 23rd, Milton’s poetic arguments were the most thorough introduction I had ever been given on the issue on censorship, and I thought I had a good, general understanding of the topic.

Then, only minutes into class discussion, my understanding of the titular course topic was challenged with Dr. Dierking’s simple question: What is censorship?

In previous college courses, I have debated the role of censorship in 17th century England and even the function of censorship in the modern American democracy, but I have never been asked to define the term.

Initially, because of my literary predisposition, I have to admit that I held a lofty and large-scale definition of the word. In my mind, censorship was vaguely the removal or altering of a work of literature from the public by a governing body. The definition I held was defined by the fact that I thought of censorship as a deliberate, public, and relatively transparent process.

However, as I participated in class discussion and began reading course provided material on censorship, my definition of the concept changed, and I realized that my definition of censorship had been given to me through limited experiences with the process and that my previous definition willfully excluded many actions and processes that yield the same or similar results to a grand, formalized ideal of censorship.  

  In short, I realized that my definition of censorship had been censored and that it also functioned as a censor.

In “Politics in Children’s Literature: Colliding Forces to Shape Young Minds,” a work that identifies different groups of people that impact the selection and teachings of children’s books, author Belinda Louie concludes that “Reading a book can be more rewarding if readers remain at some distance from the book and allow themselves to ponder how the views the book presents differ from their own” (12). This statement caught my attention in the literature and helped me discover the limitedness of my previous definition of censorship. When I read the course reading, they exposed the short-comings in my definition, and I initially followed the encouraging conclusion of the text.

After a day of pondering the author’s assertions, reflection on the quotation also led me to make a deeper connection with the literature and to formally reshape my perception of censorship. Though the exemplified quotation, Louie creates a bridge between her observations of children and censorship and of adults, or generally, independent individuals and censorship. The authoritative structure that guides and shapes the education of children in literature, also exists in a general society, though it seems much more complex. For example, Louie asserts, “I have introduced the key players in the political arena of children’s literature: authors, who perspectives prevail in their works; readers, who prefer staying in their comfort zones; parents, who see their role as to protect their children’s worldviews; teachers, who like to make choices for their classes” (12). The same roles that exist in the classroom and school system exist in society. Editors and authors have a variable level of influence over independent readers, just as they do children. As individuals move away from the protection of their parents, they become the protectors of their own worldviews or assimilate into peer groups that regulate their developed worldviews. Teachers in the classroom can morph into supervisors in the workplace or public officials on multiple levels of governments.

Whereas, books are direct highways for communication and ideas, they also serve as direct representations of individuals, which means that people are affected by the most subtle regulation of books, even unintended or well-intended regulation. Therefore, I now realize that censorship is a much more complex issue and much less of a direct and vague public action. Basically, as Louie identifies that censorship happens on a specific, individual level in the classroom (12), censorship functions the same way in society.

Now, with my definition of censorship uncensored, I have a deeper understanding of the context necessary to engage in examining a local case of censorship, and a deeper preparedness to study the topic on the deepest individual level.

Works Cited

Louie, Belinda. “Politics in Children Literature: Colliding to Shape Young Minds.” Shattering the Looking Glass: Challenge, Change, and Controversy in Children’s Literature. Ed. Susan Stewart Lehr. Northwood, Mass. Christopher-Gordon, 2008. 3-13. Print. 

Milton, John. Areopagitica. Cambridge at the University Press, 1918. Rpt. in The Online Library of Liberty, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 2006, http://files.libertyfund.org/files/103/1224_Bk.pdf.