NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project has sent a letter to the Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware to warn against labeling Aldous Huxley’s 20th Century classic Brave New World as potentially “inappropriate” for some Advanced Placement English students, as has been proposed by school board members. Though no one on the board has yet proposed that the book be removed from the curriculum, singling out a book with indisputable educational value raises constitutional issues, could invite challenges to the work and set a havoc-wreaking precedent.
The letter cautions board members that “Focusing on content that someone might consider inappropriate or objectionable inevitably takes material out of context and distorts the meaning of the book.” We also highlight the many highly-regarded books routinely taught in high schools that contain language and situations similar to those found in Brave New World, including Ulysses, Catcher in the Rye, Catch-22, 1984, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Slaughterhouse-Five and As I Lay Dying.
If Brave New World receives a warning, what book will be next, and who will decide which books need warnings? Those who object to this book are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others, even to the extent of demanding that the school adopt warnings about content they find objectionable.
Labeling classroom texts based on the objections of a few threatens the principle that is essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.