Thursday, March 5, 2009

K/12 College Topic: Freedom of Speech

10-second review: All ideas, whether dangerous or repulsive, must be allowed in the “Marketplace of ideas.”

Title: “Freedom of Speech.” Ruth McGaffey. English Journal (April 1975), 14-15. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The usual test for censoring ideas is whether the idea presents a “clear and present danger” to the public… “that some ideas might cause violent reactions from opponents, and that other ideas may cause violent actions by supporters.” p. 15.

“The flaw in these as well as other tests, of course, is that the judgment is a subjective one. People disagree as to what constitutes a clear and present danger and people disagree in how they balance individual rights against societal interests.” p. 15.

“These ideas we hate must, however, be Constitutionally protected if the market place of ideas is to survive for those ideas we love to survive.” p. 15.

Comment: To put this discussion of Freedom to express ideas into the context of literature:

Oedipus Rex is an example of how literature deals with the ideas we hate: kills his father, marries his mother. Does that play cause young readers to copy Oedipus’s behavior? Or does the young reader understand the tragedy that results from his behavior even though he did not know what he was doing? The complexity of human motivation, causation and consequences even though neither act was consciously motivated.

The same is true of Lolita by Nabokov. People censored it because of the situation of a middle-aged man trying to seduce a pre-teen, but ignoring Nabokov’s treatment of the situation—the pure enjoyment of playing with the American language and culture
. RayS.

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