Father Writes a Great Letter About Censorship When Son Brings Home Permission Slip to Read Ray Bradbury’s Censored Book, Fahrenheit 451

book permission slip.jpg Ironic permission slip request https://twitter.com/i/moments/790703810427494400

How does cen­sor­ship come about in advanced, osten­si­bly demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties? In some cas­es, through insti­tu­tions col­lud­ing in ways that go unno­ticed by the gen­er­al pub­lic. As Noam Chom­sky has argued for decades, state agen­cies often col­lude with the press to spread cer­tain nar­ra­tives and sup­press oth­ers. And as we see dur­ing Banned Books Week, leg­is­la­tures, courts, and edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions often col­lude with pub­lish­ers, teach­ers, and par­ents to sup­press lit­er­a­ture they view as threat­en­ing. One such case remains par­tic­u­lar­ly iron­ic giv­en the book in ques­tion: Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451, the sto­ry of a dystopi­an soci­ety in which all books are banned, and fire depart­ments burn con­tra­band copies.

Between the years 1967 and 1979, Bal­lan­tine pub­lished an expur­gat­ed ver­sion of the nov­el for use in high schools, remov­ing con­tent deemed objec­tion­able. Brad­bury was com­plete­ly unaware. For six of those years, the bowd­ler­ized ver­sion was the only one sold by the pub­lish­er. We can remem­ber this case when we read the response of writer Daniel Radosh to a per­mis­sion slip his son Milo brought home from his 8th grade teacher for a book club read­ing of Fahren­heit 451. Writ­ten in Milo’s own hand, the ini­tial note, at the top, informs Mr. Radosh that the nov­el “was chal­lenged because of it’s [sic] theme of the ille­gal­i­ty and cen­sor­ship of books. One book peo­ple got most angry about was the burn­ing of the bible. Sec­ond­ly, there is a large amount of curs­ing and pro­fan­i­ty in the book.”

After this con­fes­sion, Milo’s note asks for a parental sig­na­ture in a post­script. Address­ing the let­ter’s true writer, Milo’s teacher, Daniel Radosh respond­ed thus, in the typed note attached to his son’s let­ter.

I love this let­ter! What a won­der­ful way to intro­duce stu­dents to the theme of Fahren­heit 451 that books are so dan­ger­ous that the insti­tu­tions of soci­ety – schools and par­ents – might be will­ing to team up against chil­dren to pre­vent them from read­ing one.

It’s easy enough to read the book and say, ‘This is crazy. It could nev­er real­ly hap­pen,’ but pre­tend­ing to present stu­dents at the start with what seems like a total­ly rea­son­able ‘first step’ is a real­ly immer­sive way to teach them how insid­i­ous cen­sor­ship can be.

I’m sure that when the book club is over and the stu­dents realise the true intent of this let­ter they’ll be shocked at how many of them accept­ed it as an actu­al per­mis­sion slip.

In addi­tion, Milo’s con­cern that allow­ing me to add to this note will make him stand out as a trou­ble­mak­er real­ly brings home why most of the char­ac­ters find it eas­i­er to accept the world they live in rather than chal­lenge it.

I assured him that his teacher would have his back.

Radosh’s insin­u­a­tion that the let­ter his son was induced to write is not an “actu­al per­mis­sion slip” under­scores his claim that the exer­cise is real­ly a means of con­trol­ling chil­dren by means of col­lu­sion, even though, he jests, such a thing must be part of the les­son itself. Should he be allowed to read the nov­el, the sign­ing and deliv­ery of the per­mis­sion slip, Radosh dev­as­tat­ing­ly sug­gests, com­pletes Milo’s humil­i­a­tion, bring­ing home to him “why most of the char­ac­ters” in the book remain pas­sive, and “find it eas­i­er to accept the world they live in rather than chal­lenge it.”

In short, Radosh’s response, for all its pithy irony, digs deeply into the mech­a­nisms that sup­press speech deemed so “dan­ger­ous that the insti­tu­tions of society—schools and parents—might be will­ing to team up against chil­dren to pre­vent them” from read­ing it.

See Metro UK for a com­plete tran­scrip­tion of both let­ters.

via Vin­tage Anchor

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Ray Bradbury’s Clas­sic Sci-Fi Sto­ry Fahren­heit 451 as a Radio Dra­ma

The Cov­er of George Orwell’s 1984 Becomes Less Cen­sored with Wear and Tear

Frank Zap­pa Debates Cen­sor­ship on CNN’s Cross­fire (1986)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • Rob says:

    Did­n’t Brad­bury main­tain that the theme was about the influ­ence of TV turn­ing peo­ple away from lit­er­a­ture and numb­ing their brains rather than cen­sor­ship?

    Either way, a great book.

  • gesster says:

    obvi­ous­ly “Rob” did­n’t read the book.

  • Timo says:

    Yes, there is a strong ele­ment in the nov­el of char­ac­ters los­ing their abil­i­ty to think for them­selves because they are addict­ed to screens.

  • Sue Hutchings says:

    I read Ray Brad­bury’s Fahren­heit 451 in Ele­men­tary School. I think I was 11 or 12 years old, and I loved any book or sto­ry by Mr. Brad­bury. Maybe this book was nev­er banned in Cana­da (where I live) because it was just sit­ting there on the library shelf with many oth­er Brad­bury books. I saw the movie on TV when I was around 15, but I pre­ferred Brad­bury’s book. The father’s let­ter in the above arti­cle was great.

  • Paul F says:

    Well, he read some­thing.

    “Ray Brad­bury Reveals the True Mean­ing of Fahren­heit 451: It’s Not About Cen­sor­ship, But Peo­ple “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”


  • CaosMyth says:

    Obvi­ous­ly “Gesster” had no inter­est in Ray Brad­bury.

  • Frederick Harrison says:

    Fahren­heit 451 was not banned in Cana­da. My Grade 12 Lit­er­a­ture course stud­ied it in 1972–73 — along with Sin­clair Lewis’s Bab­bit, and John Wyn­d­ham’s The Chrysalids.

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