Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Let's burn some books

"Remember, Mr. Montag, the public stopped reading of its own accord. No one wants to be a rebel anymore."

--Faber, in Ray Bradbury's Fahreneit 451

The children's theatre here puts on one production geared toward high school students each year. Last year's was Oedipus Rex, and after having read the play the previous month, and having studied Greek drama and watched part of Agamemnon (the tape hissed and flipped to the point that we just had to give up) complete with masked all-male performers, I thought S. was primed to have a quality experience. Who'd a thunk the costuming would wind up being so off-beat and weird all our conversation afterwards would be centered around that aspect of the play?

So S. approached this year's Fahrenheit 451 with a bit of an attitude. He could not be bothered to reread the book before hand. He was ready to blame me for subjecting him to something just as offensive as last year's Greek chorus of strapless dresses and Oedipus' trench-coated bare-chested attire (and then he turned around and loved Ethan Hawke's Hamlet. Go figure). Fortunately the Fates smiled upon us this year, and there was nothing to distract or disappoint him. The effects, the cast, all were just marvelous. It took us till the intermission to figure out that Montag was played by Oedipus' Teiresias, whose strange birdlike costume had been the hit out of all the misses last winter.

He's now happily rereading and pointing out the ways the play differed from the book. And my attention can't help but be snagged by all the nonsense going on in the news: a Kansas school superintendant giving copies of Bless Me Ultima to parents to burn (ALA); the usual run of parents trying to get books removed from reading lists; last week's announcement that high schoolers think the First Amendment goes "too far."

I found the complete survey given to high schoolers and its subsequent 92-page report at the John S. and James L. Knight site. General student and administration demographics are given; it's interesting to see how many are getting their news primarily from television these days (why didn't they ask which station?). It was also interesting to see that a higher percentage of public school students than private school students take classes that deal with the First Amendment. For comparison purposes, the University of Connecticut conducts a yearly State of the First Amendment poll for those 18 and over.

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