January 08, 2011
Bowdlerization for thee, and rebowdlerization for me!
I tend towards First Amendment fanaticism, and I would be absolutely rabid with rage if it turned out the government had a hand in this. OTOH, I think that purely private censorship (by private individuals and entities) is a First Amendment right. There are numerous versions of the Bible, and even Thomas Jefferson created his own heavily edited version. Anyone with a printing press can run off an expurgated version of anything.
Ann Althouse thinks a Huckleberry Finn edition without the "n" word should be available:
I think that's right, although I am one of those people who gets annoyed when I am not allowed to see something that some authority figure does not want me to see. I was that way as a child and I am that way now.
In an odd coincidence, after a recent book purchase, I inadvertently stumbled onto a very annoying bit of censorship by a publisher most people think of as doing just the opposite. I am fascinated by the way the "old" and "outmoded" McGuffey Readers did a far better job of imparting literacy than whatever techniques are today. Just as I wondered in a comment to Dave's earlier post whether the one-room schoolhouse might do a better job than than the administration-top-heavy educrat edifices of today, I find myself wondering if Detroit -- with its 47% illiteracy rate -- might do better to just try the McGuffey reader. The Sixth Eclectic Reader offers selections intended for sixth graders that would qualify as college-level literature today.
Anyway, I have been collecting some of these old McGuffey Readers for my entertainment. Like many textbooks, they were occasionally revised to fit the times, and some of the stuff that was thought to go a bit too far towards Christian evangelism in the original 1837 Reader was heavily edited in the latter part of the 19th Century. However, I learned that some of the modern fundamentalist Christians who home-school their kids have revived the 1837 version, which they see as the perfect way to not only teach their kids to read and write, but also to instil in them what they see as ideal Christian values. (Which is their absolute right to do.)
This series is called "The Original McGuffey's," and I assumed that it would be word-for-word the same as the original Reader from 1837, so I bought one.
Imagine my shock when I learned that it, too, had been censored!
From the "PRESENT PUBLISHER'S PREFACE" by Mott Media President George M. Mott:
Now that just ticked me off, because I bought the book believing it was an accurate and unexpurgated reprint of the original reader. It is not. The above changes are not "slight," but are of a substantial nature (far more so than replacing the n-word with "slave"). For starters, I am dying to know what's in missing chapter II and the missing portion of chapter XI. So I need to find and buy a true original (do I have to Whoopify the term and say "original-original"?), and they are not cheap.
Alas! Gutenberg only seems to have the revised 1879 version online, and not the original.
Again, I think people ought to be able to print what they want and buy what they want, but still, the word "original" ought to mean something other than "the newly Rebowdlerized Edition of the Formerly Bowdlerized Original."
It makes my head spin.
You'd almost think censorship was relative.
posted by Eric on 01.08.11 at 02:20 PM
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