December 20, 2007

Halton Catholic School Board Teaching Students the Wrong Lesson

Almost a month ago I wrote about how a couple Ontario Catholic school boards were doing reviews on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy due to the atheist ideas contained within them. It's being reported today that the Halton Catholic school board has decided to ban the book from its schools' shelves.

If my past two posts on this subject are any indication, it should come at no surprise that I think the board is making a huge mistake. In fact, so does the book committee that was put together to review the trilogy. The committee's recommendation to the board was to reintroduce the books into school libraries but limit access to them to the intermediate grades.

One of the major themes in this series is about fighting institutional control over information, knowledge, truth, etc. It is very clear the aim is to make some noise with a very centralized institution or church such as Catholicism. However, this alone should not be any reason to effectively ban the books, especially in a publicly funded institution. Even the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has given his support to the author and this theme because he worries about dogma being reinforced within Christianity. This is a concern that all believers should have because dogma only harms the message and fundamentals of faith in the end and renders them irrelevant.

The Halton Catholic school board decision to overrule their review committee and ban the books has just given aid to that concern.

The board has argued that the series is not in line with "the Catholic values that we are trying to teach children." But I'm pretty sure that argument can made against the majority of books found in their school libraries. And the offence cannot be that great since both the York and Dufferin-Peel, the latter that also did their own review, have left the books in their own libraries. It would be interesting to see what it is about these particular books that have Halton so anxious.

To ban the books is to admit weakness and fear. Why else would a group restrict access to a critical message? I tend to think the best way to counter someone's argument is to attack it head on and be an example of why your message is the better. The board should lead by example and present their message as a better alternative, or at the very least face the questions some students - though none as reported so far - may have about the hierarchy and bureaucracy of their Church. Attack the problem of so-called dogma within their institutions instead of hiding from the suggestion that it's ripe with it.

One parent that was quoted in The Star said it best, "I'm pretty comfortable in our faith to know that a book won't force them to waver in it." And while most would think that is how these so-called leaders would also feel, it doesn't seem to be playing out that way. You have to wonder what lessons students are ultimately going to learn from the lack of leadership and confidence that has been shown by the school board?

Further Reading:
Catholic Church = Unintentional Good Idea Detector

1 comment:

Derek Wall said...

Seems a fairly mad decision, Pullman rejects closed minds and opposition to science beyond this the film is not theological and surely a book cannot be this much of a threat to be banned.

It will be Harry Potter next!

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