When I was 10, my eye caught a curious title on my school library shelves. It was A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. To make a long story short, I read it and fell in love with words and ideas.
Later, I learned that this splendid piece of literature has often been banned because its ideas about witchcraft may be too powerful for an impressionable child's mind. I also became vaguely aware that other highly-acclaimed books were occasionally banned in small-minded corners of the earth.
But for decades, book-banning seemed a pretty remote concept to me -- something that happened in far-away, unlit places.
No more. As I write this, book lovers are gathering in a park about 100 yards from this very same middle school (in Wyoming, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati) to protest a chilling response by the local school board to a parent's complaint about two highly-acclaimed books on the high school reading list. (The books are: The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad, andThe Perks Being of a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.)
Did the board respectfully remind the parent that he could have his child work with a teacher to read something else instead? Did the board immediately show complete confidence in its teachers and librarians?
No. The board declared that the school selection process had not been properly followed (refusing to provide details), and that all that approved books will be reviewed by a special committee according to four criteria:
• The relationship to the course of study; • The uniqueness of the content that is not adequately provided in district materials; • The appropriateness of the content for the maturity and comprehension levels of the students; and, • The extent to which the content could create controversy among student, parents, and community groups.
Controversy, of course, being a negative. I checked this with the Wyoming Superindendent Dr. Gail Kist-Kline. She confirmed that if a book was found to be controversial, the principal would have to re-review it in light of its controversial nature. She also vigorously disagreed with the characterization from many that the Board is flirting with the notion of banned books. But to my eyes, and to many others, two very disturbing actions are taking place: first, the lack of support for teachers who have chosen obviously very distinguished books; second, and more importantly, the nature of a review which gives zero credence to quality and extraordinary credence to controversy.
It is, of course, entirely appropriate for a school board to investigate any parent's complaint. And I get the impression that Dr. Kist-Kline would personally be upset and even ashamed if a highly-acclaimed approved book were later un-approved. She understands that the national reputation of Wyoming's schools -- U.S. News & World Report ranked it the 50th best high school in the nation in 2009 -- would immediately and forever be tarnished. It would drop off that list faster than you can say "literature matters."
But what Dr. Kist-Kline and the Wyoming School Board don't seem to get is that a political review that gives great weight to controversy is, in itself, a profound retreat from the highest educational standards. My old Wyoming classmate Francesca (Schmid) Thomas, now president of the Parents-Teachers group for her local high school in Arizona, puts it this way:
The Board is not standing up for academic excellence, in my mind. If two parents object, how are we serving the vast majority of students if we eliminate the book from the selected readings? There are plenty of parents who have crazy ideas about what your children should hear, but that does not mean we should let them run our schools. Books need to be selected by professionally trained teachers based on their academic and intellectual merit.
A quality education requires the inclusion of controversial material, especially at the high school level, so that students can achieve their academic objectives while simultaneously becoming critical thinkers. Since state academic standards focus on broad objectives, not specific books, it is incumbent on teachers and administrators to open the eyes and minds of our students to the enormously complicated world in which we live in the context of the classroom. If public schools succumb to the pressures of vocal minorities to limit the educational experience of students, by diminishing access to materials deemed controversial by some, then we will relegate the vast majority of students in our country to a sub-standard level of education.
To have a Board of elected citizens give such weight to controversy is bad policy. It should be changed. Whenever we pit "educational merit" versus "controversy," we censor, plain and simple.
If this can happen in Wyoming, Ohio, it can happen anywhere. And consider some of the books that have been banned or challenged over the years. According to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, 42 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century "have been the target of ban attempts." Here is that list, each book next to its corresponding number from the Radcliffe 100 list:
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger 3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker 6. Ulysses by James Joyce 7. Beloved by Toni Morrison 8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding 9. 1984 by George Orwell 11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov 12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck 15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner 20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway 21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 23. Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison 25. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison 26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 27. Native Son by Richard Wright 28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey 29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut 30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway 33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London 36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin 38. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren 45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair 48. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence 49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess 53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote 55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie 64. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence 66. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut 67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles 73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs 75. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence 80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer 84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller 88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser 97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Read great books. Celebrate great books. And demand that school boards everywhere celebrate them too.
Postscript: Here is the exact copy of A Wrinkle in Time that I read when I was ten. A few years ago, I made a swap with the Wyoming Middle School library: their old tattered copy for several brand new copies. It now sits on my desk, the most cherished book I own.
Orr: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Your Grace. My name is Tyrion Lannister.”
At last! I know I speak for quite a few book readers when I say that pretty much the only thing that kept me going through the eleventy thousand discursive, digressive pages of George R. R. Martin’s fifth tome, A Dance With Dragons, was the promise of Tyrion finally meeting up with Daenerys Targaryen. And, of course, after eleventy thousand pages, it never happened. So on behalf of myself and everyone else who sacrificed sleep, work, family, and friends waiting for this moment, let me say thank you, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Bonus points for what seemed to be a cameo by Strong Belwas (a book character who was written out of the show) as the nameless fighter who freed Tyrion from his chains.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Some fans are complaining that Zack Snyder’s envisioning of the Man of Steel is too grim—but it’s less a departure than a return to the superhero’s roots.
Since the official teaser trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice debuted online in April, fans and critics alike have been discussing the kind of Superman Zack Snyder is going to depict in his Man of Steel sequel. The controversy stems from Snyder’s decision to cast Superman as a brooding, Dark Knight-like character, who cares more about beating up bad guys than saving people. The casting split has proved divisive among Superman fans: Some love the new incarnation, citing him as an edgier, more realistic version of the character.
But Snyder’s is a different Superman than the one fans grew up with, and many have no problem expressing their outrage over it. Even Mark Waid, the author of Superman: Birthright (one of the comics the original film is based on), voiced his concern about Man of Steel’s turn toward bleakness when it came out in 2013:
The country’s political dysfunction has undermined all efforts to build an effective fighting force.
The Obama Administration has run out of patience with Iraq’s Army. On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” to discuss the recent fall of Ramadi, one of Iraq’s major cities, to ISIS. Despite possessing substantial advantages in both numbers and equipment, he said, the Iraqi military were unable to prevent ISIS forces from capturing the city.
“That says to me and, I think, to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.”
Carter’s frustrations are shared by his boss. When asked about the war against ISIS in a recent interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, President Obama said that “if the Iraqis are not willing to fight for the security of their country, then we cannot do it for them.”
Rebel groups that employ terror in civil wars seldom win or gain concessions—but they tend to prolong conflicts, a new paper finds.
Nearly 14 years into the war on terror, there are signs of terrorism all around us, from Memorial Day tributes to the victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the raging congressional debate over reauthorizing the Patriot Act.
Yet some of the most basic information about terrorism remains surprisingly elusive. For example: Does it work?
There have been some attempts at answering the question, but many of them are either largely anecdotal or geographically constrained. Other studies have focused on international terror. But as political scientist Page Fortna of Columbia University notes, the vast majority of terrorism isn’t transnational—it’s localized, utilized in the context of civil wars and fights for territorial control. Many of the intractable conflicts the U.S. is involved in today fit this definition: the fighting between ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other groups in Iraq and Syria; the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria; al-Shabab’s terrorism in Somalia and Kenya; Yemen’s civil war; the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Is terrorism an effective tool when used in those conflicts?
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.
Scott Santens has been thinking a lot about fish lately. Specifically, he’s been reflecting on the aphorism, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” What Santens wants to know is this: “If you build a robot to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?”
Santens is 37 years old, and he’s a leader in the basic income movement—a worldwide network of thousands of advocates (26,000 on Reddit alone) who believe that governments should provide every citizen with a monthly stipend big enough to cover life’s basic necessities. The idea of a basic income has been around for decades, and it once drew support from leaders as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon. But rather than waiting for governments to act, Santens has started crowdfunding his own basic income of $1,000 per month. He’s nearly halfway to his his goal.
Changing neighborhoods may be a class issue, but in America, that means it's also a racial one.
Ask city-dwellers to describe what, precisely, gentrification is you’ll get an array of answers. The term is a murky one, used to describe the many different ways through which money and development enter poorer or less developed neighborhoods, changing them both economically and demographically.
For some, gentrification and gentrifiers are inherently bad—pushing out residents who are often older, poorer, and darker than the neighborhood’s new occupants. For others, a new group of inhabitants brings the possibility of things residents have long hoped for, better grocery stores, new retail, renovations, and an overall revitalization that often eludes low-income neighborhoods.
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface so-called "nail houses."
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface so-called "nail houses." These properties, standing alone amid the ruins of other buildings, belong to owners who have stood their ground and resisted demolition. Defiant property owners say the compensation being offered is too low. Some of them have remained in their homes for years as their court cases drag on and new construction continues all around them. A few homeowners have won their fights, but most have lost. Meanwhile, these nail houses have become powerful symbols of resistance against the world's fastest-growing major economy.