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Parental Permission Needed to Read Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel about censorship and book burning was on the book club’s agenda for Banned Books Week. However, the school required a permission slip from parents before a child could read the book. Some parents had objected to the book because of a few curse words and a depiction of Bible burning. What could be more ironic than censoring a book about censorship? Milo requested a permission slip from his Dad, Daily Show writer Daniel Radosh. His response:

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 realize 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 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.

-via The Daily Dot 


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While there are good uses of permission slips, I also watched them used for political games when I was in school. When the slips were issued by an administrator disagreeing with the teacher, it can be worded harshly enough that many parents will deny it. Ideally a parent would look into it or read the book themselves, but for a variety of reasons that doesn't happen and poorly informed decisions get made. I also had a couple friends that couldn't get permission slips signed for anything, due to parental apathy, not any sort of exercising right to decide one way or another. The administrators would then play games, saying the book or topic isn't appropriate curriculum the following year when some arbitrary number of permission slips didn't come back, even when it was a small minority.
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I can tell the difference between government and parents. I'm not a complete idiot. Some governments take the right to decide what their people read. We as a country decided that parents have the right. Denying a book is censorship, wherever it comes from. I also believe that when a child can read words well enough to understand the concepts behind them, they can handle the concepts. Especially when the parent is involved and willing to discuss those ideas.

I feel a little more protective about TV and movies, because visuals can affect children too young to read and understand. Books are just words. I have told my kids, "I read that book at (such and such) age and it gave me nightmares." And if needed, I explained why. That put the decision to read or not on them.
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Except when that "someone in power" is a parent. They have the sole responsibility to decide when and what their child reads. Not the State. It is the parent's right and we must defer to it always, whether or not we agree. A permission slip is NOT censorship. It is a sad day indeed when a parent cannot tell the difference.
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When you are in a powerless class, like a child, and someone in power decides there is knowledge you can't have because of the authority's agenda for your life, and you can't even find out why, it makes little difference who that authority is. The solution is not to restrict reading, but to expand it.
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Re an issue implicitly touched upon in the above article: Bradbury's book is about (an all-powerful) government banning books, which is very different from a school, association, or even a community from doing so. Failure to appreciate this distinction (between the federal government -- and every other entity with regulatory power over our lives) is what separates Americans into our two largest political camps today. We live in a Federalist system...and I'd wager any amount of money that a huge majority of us have no idea (sadly) what that means.
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