Morality and religion, which “function through human institutions,” are inherently culturally biased and focus largely on a particular group of people. Spirituality is a connection to the whole, rather than just to one group, and an education in such can achieve generally the same goals as religious teachings, although with more emphasis on plurality than on any single ideal.
American schools wrestle with this issue in choosing a curriculum; the most significant controversy over something such as textbooks having taken place in Kanawha County, West Virginia in 1974. Protesters kept their children from beginning school that year while they picketed the schools, their actions shadowed by sympathetic workers from various other occupations. Although the school board agreed to pull the books in question for review, protesters became more extremist, firebombing elementary schools and “roughing up” reporters, for example. The board ended up approving all but the most controversial of the books and the protests eventually died out after state troopers were allowed to intervene.
The author interviewed several of these protesters, analyzing their criticisms of the various books and found that what was most important to these people was their religious beliefs. It turned out that the protesters were very much afraid of their children being “kidnapped by voices from other milieus and ideologies,” and felt threatened by multicultural studies, open-ended discussion, et cetera. They objected to course material having anything to do with people outside of their own reference group, differences namely characterized by ethnicity, complaining that their own culture was not being passed on, but one must contemplate whose culture it is that should be passed on to such a diverse nation.
Protesters claimed that the books attacked authoritative figures, namely that of the family. These accusations were simply part of the struggle to determine if it should be the family or the school system that is blamed for “problem” children and the troubles of society. The protesters would not allow modernizations of religious stories, calling them blasphemous, or personal accounts of history, such as the Vietnam War, saying that such selections were only included to make students feel guilty. The real issue here was self-examination, which was resisted via the term “invasion of privacy;” the protesters preferred to continue to point fingers rather than looking in the mirror.
“Know thyself” should be first and foremost the focus of school curricula, for even concepts such as good citizenship and productivity would follow from personal development. Morbidity and negativity in literature were also targeted because the protesters denied the idea of such issues being a part of themselves. The case made by the censors for such exclusions dealt with the idea of focusing only on the positive. Even though literature deals with the “horrors” of self-examination, if works are not read too shallowly, they can still be viewed as “gospel” when the reader manages to put imagination into the reading. Religious education has been gradually replaced by English education, and the fundamentalist protesters are right to want to hold on to the spiritual education, and that society sees spirituality and religion as one in the same while it shies from both, but the fundamentalists cannot bring spirituality back into the classroom by restricting reading.
Spirituality can be restored by withdrawing the control over the students, such as by granting much more freedom in what students choose to read and in how they interact with others. Students should be negotiating reading materials for their own individual curricula, rather than faculty choosing one for a diverse population, which would not only undermine the practice of censorship but would also begin educating students spiritually. Social boundaries also restrict knowledge, understanding and spirituality, while learning on a much broader scope helps to overcome these limitations.
People tend to feel that self-identity depends upon one’s close-knit reference group, and they shut out anything that could potentially alter that identification, censoring themselves in the process. Literacy is feared because it is able to overcome cultural barriers, causing society to fear “transmitting” any more than one culture, anything other than one’s own, via literature. Culture is passed on in our daily lives rather than taught, so putting restrictions on things such as great books does nothing except keep culture from being added to as it is passed along. People are at war with one another because they try so desperately to pass on their ways at the expense of others’ ideas; they are trying to create conformity rather than unity. The perpetuation of culture lies in teaching the next generations to think for themselves so that they can help the culture to evolve, and if such is not allowed, that culture will eventually fall into extinction.