Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This just in...

After the backlash from the recent banning of Invisible Man from the shelves of Randolph County high school libraries, the Board of Education has voted to return the book to the shelves. The members voted 6-1 to make the novel available in school libraries once again, and board member Matthew Lambeth said he thought he "came to a conclusion too quickly". It's exciting to know that with voices protesting loud enough, banned books may not always stay off the bookshelves for too long.

Gagging the Canadian Military

The Ottawa Citizen reports that the Canadian Forces is requesting that its wounded members sign a form prohibiting them from criticizing the military on social media. The request comes from the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU), which oversees support centres across the country with the aim of helping wounded soldiers. Their policy is intended to provide education to its "members and personnel on what constitutes the appropriate and inappropriate use of social media and the possible ramifications for a CAF member" (Pugliese).

Critics contend that the policy stifles freedom of speech and may "intimidate those who were injured and prevent them from speaking out about ill treatment," and that while military personnel are not required to sign the form, "most would feel compelled to do so . . . [and] if they step out of line and make controversial comments about how they have been treated by the Canadian Forces, the signed form would be among the first items introduced at their court martial" (Pugliese).

In its defense, the JPSU argues that "inappropriate use of social media has serious ramifications for the Canadian Forces as it can erode public trust and 'destroy team cohesion'" (Pugliese).

One question here is whether there has already been an erosion of trust between the Canadian Forces and its members.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Silencing Dissent

Stephen Harper's government continues to come under fire for its measures that have silenced scientists on a number of important issues, not least of all the environmental impacts of projects such as the Alberta oil sands. A recent editorial in The New York Times is very critical of the restrictions on academic freedom in Canada, pointing out that:

Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.
As the article notes, scientists across Canada have organized public protests against the actions of the Harper government, but this is an issue that has implications for everyone whose work may conflict with government policy, and as such, it is an issue that is too important to ignore.

Practice of Banning Books Still Going Strong

Just in time for Banned Books Week in the United States, there have been attempts to both ban books from school libraries and remove them from reading lists. Recently, Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar has stated that she wants to have The Bluest Eye, written by Toni Morrison, removed from state guidelines for schools. This book was also targeted in Alabama at the end of August when Senator Bill Holtzclaw sought to have Morrison's novel removed from school reading lists. Additionally, he has offered support to have the book removed from school libraries. He describes the book as "completely objectionable, from language to the content".

Even more distressing is the recent ruling by the Randolph County board in North Carolina to ban the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison from school libraries, not just from reading lists. Regarding the novel, board member Gary Mason said that he "didn't find any literary value".

Books are great avenues for creating discussion about important issues. Who, if anyone, should be able to tell you what you can and cannot read? Sound off in the comments.