For the last few weeks, Seattle has been debating Aldous Huxley's novel BRAVE NEW WORLD. The book was assigned in a high school English class, and a Native American student and her mother objected strongly to its "racist" depiction of Native Americans, including over 30 references to "savage natives" on reservations as being dirty and decrepit, living apart from the modern world of Huxley's future. The book was -- depending on whom you listen to -- either banned or "suspended" from the curriculum. The suspension is allegedly until teachers can be taught to "present the material sensitively."
Apart from the slur on teachers' ability to already deal with their own curriculum, this issue is more complicated than it looks at first. I am categorically against any form of censorship of adult reading material. But kids present a different situation. I think we can all agree that, for instance, nobody wants TROPIC OF CANCER in the third-grade library. So the question becomes: Where does the line exist between children who should be protected against things they are not yet mature enough to handle, and teenagers who are presumably able to discuss literature that presents disturbing views of the future?
For those of you who haven't read BRAVE NEW WORLD (and I don't know why that would be), it's worth pointing out that the novel regards protagonist John, raised on the "savage" reservation, as the moral center of the novel, and the future "civilized" world -- with its deliberately created genetic slaves, orgies, and easy drugs -- as undesirable. In the same way, the slave Jim is the moral center of HUCKLEBERRY FINN, another novel often challenged for its racism. These books actually condemn the mores of "normal" society and so are genuinely subversive -- a point which any good teacher would make in class.
I think high school students can handle this distinction, and the book. It should not be banned, suspended, nor hidden away in the interests of students or parents who wish to read only what is comfortable. LITTLE WOMEN and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, in their own way, fine books -- but they're hardly the whole of literature. Or of education.