This August I found myself walking down Bourbon Street with my father and my sisters at dusk. A few hours earlier, except for the voodoo shops that warned us with dog-eared signs that “we better take da magic seriously” or face dire consequences involving the bodily fates of ourselves and the people we love, New Orleans’s most favorite boulevard had been a fairly sleepy little street. But dusk began to reveal a fairly seedy little underbelly that beckoned to the four of us with bright lights and the promise of an abundance of alcohol, bright lights seeking to lure the id-ridden mosquito.
I am 24, and my sisters are not much younger. We’ve seen our share of the base and banal, and I know my father knows that. But as we walked east into the increasingly intense lights, he stopped, outstretched his right arm a little protectively, and turned us as a collective whole down a side street, saying, “Let’s not go any further.” We found ourselves on some less-memorable New Orleans street, in an Irish Imports store, looking up the translation of our names in Welsh.
My dad did not steer his three nearly adult daughters away from certain licentiousness because he was afraid that by seeing it we would become it. My father steered us away because there comes a point in time where it is not a helpful thing to the development of one’s character to expose yourself to certain sights, sounds, activities or ideas. There comes a certain time when censorship is not necessarily such a heinous thing after all.
I am studying to be an English teacher. In a semester I hope to get a full-time job teaching literature to high school students who will undoubtedly know many more foul and dirty words than I do, and will undoubtedly have experimented with a great many more things and situations than I have. This does not trouble me, because it is not my job as an educator to expose them to everything in the world to which they could possibly be exposed. It is my job as an educator to jettison from my classroom thinking individuals.
Our campus is a good place to be if one wants to expose one’s self to the intricacies of our world. There are few places better suited for the free exchange of ideas. That’s the entire purpose of a university. But I caution those of you interested in impacting the world, particularly those of you going on to teach, going on to spheres of public influence, and those of you going on to rear families. There is no such thing as perfectly harmless information.
There is a tendency towards the thinking that we must not shield our children from anything because then they will undoubtedly get out into the real world and either be bigots or they will not be able to cope with the way the “real world” is. That we must always encourage the young to expand their minds as much as possible, at any cost, so that when the time comes they will make wise and informed choices about who they are in the world in which they live.
This is wrong.
I love literature. I am a staunch supporter of the First Amendment. I will never support the banning of books, regardless of how acrid the taste of them. And I will encourage my students to read voraciously.
However, it is my responsibility as an educator to realize that while everything is permissible, everything is not necessarily profitable. And there will be certain books I do not teach, and certain books I will not encourage the reading of. This is not because I am a prude. This is not because I am afraid that if my students read sexually explicit material they will become sexually promiscuous sophomores.
I would advocate self-censorship, and yes, educator-censorship because there are stages of appropriateness in human development, and there are some things that really just need to be avoided.
Don’t throw out Hamlet just because of weird parental-filial relations. But understand that as adults we have responsibilities to our youth. To educate always. And to turn them down side-streets if we need to.