Every Burned Book Enlightens the World – Ralph Waldo Emerson



I was discussing the piece I posted on yesterday’s blog about Hikari Ōe the musician with one of my PhD students this morning. During the conversation we briefly discussed the use of the blog as a means of increasing awareness about inclusive education and wider issues related to schools, and the ways in which we might involve others in a debate around a range of ideas. Whilst we reached no real conclusions we generally agreed that at times there had been interesting responses posted and that these had helped to shape my thinking and that of others in respect of some complex matters.

It has always seemed to me that simply posting words is probably not the best way to go about reaching an audience that has become used to a much more visual way of accessing information. Hence the use of photographs, video and music wherever available to illustrate points related to the day’s theme. My student agreed that this was helpful but then made a statement that has left me wondering about this approach on a number of levels.

“It’s a great pity,” she announced, “that my family would have been unable to listen to the music composed by Hikari Ōe because in ******* the use of You Tube is banned.”

Apparently her family is able to read anything written on the blog but cannot access the video recordings that I have posted. It seems that someone at government level in the country where my student’s family lives has deemed that access to freely available video materials is against the national interest. This revelation has been at the back of my mind all day until now, when I have a moment to sit down and reflect properly on what I was told.

Two questions in particular come to mind. The first is a practical one, if censorship is such that a particular form of media is made inaccessible to a proportion of the population, should I give more thought to how I communicate the themes with which I hope readers of this blog might engage? In one sense I suppose, if I know that there are some individuals who would like to access this material and do nothing to meet their needs, I am hardly being inclusive. It could be interpreted that such action excludes certain individuals from participating in this forum,  and one might therefore argue I am behaving in a manner contrary to the principles I have been advocating. However, I suppose I might contend that it is not me that is behaving in this exclusionary manner; it is those who have imposed a ban upon the particular media in question. I am more than happy to invite anyone to participate and have not denied access to anyone who wishes to express an opinion. Should I therefore modify my practice?

Having given this some thought I am not sure that I have fully come to a conclusion. As with most aspects of life I suspect that I need to find a compromise. I certainly have no intention of stopping my use of video materials if I think they are of interest and help to put across a point that I wish to make. However, I may well make a renewed effort to ensure that my use of words is in itself sufficient in stating an argument or making a case, so that those unable to access these materials are not significantly disadvantaged.

My second thought on this issue of censorship is much more general. I wonder what the individuals who make decisions about what access others can have to materials, such as those posted on this blog, would understand by the term inclusion? The history of education in many countries demonstrates that the exclusion of individuals from learning opportunities and the marginalisation of people who might appear too demanding, has often been founded upon fear and ignorance. If we allow such people access to learning won’t this only increase the demands they make upon us in the future? If we encourage the inclusion of individuals with disabilities, then who will be the next to seek an education? Will the Gypsy Roma start to demand their rights? Or the women? Or those from lower castes? If we allow the masses access to You Tube what will they expect next? A free press? democracy?

So, if you have been following this blog but have been frustrated by the fact that others have denied you access to some of the content, then I apologise. However, I hope that you will understand why I have no intention of ceasing to post materials that I hope will be of interest and accessible to the majority. But I will consider the ways in which I express my thoughts in an attempt to ensure that the message of inclusion is not over dependent upon the use of additional media.

It is highly unlikely that anyone who would wish to inhibit access to democratic discussion would ever  join in with these discussions of inclusion and social justice. But if you are one such individual, you are most welcome to this blog and if you choose to post a comment I will be pleased to share it with others.

As George Orwell said: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

6 thoughts on “Every Burned Book Enlightens the World – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. Spot on, Richard! It is a horrid handicap not to be able to access Youtube and other media websites. It violates a person’s freedom of expression and their right to information. A blog that uses ‘additional media’ is more effective and, of course, hugely interesting and educational. I do hope you will continue as before.

  2. Many thanks for your comment Maleeha. Freedom of expression is something that those of us working in education should feel passionate about. I have often been conscious that there are many individuals, who as a result of disability or poverty do not have the opportunity to have their voices heard. In such circumstances it is necessary for others to represent them in as fairly a way as possible. We do, of course, need to exercise caution in order to ensure that we are not misrepresenting their views. But I have been attempting to create a democratic forum through this blog where all opinions expressed are transparent and any individual can engage. Hopefully others will see what you have said and join in the debate – even those who may disagree. Through such dialogue we can only hope to improve our understanding

  3. I shall dare to be the devil’s advocate here, Richard – and posit this argument: Perhaps the powers that be who decide to curtail certain digital resources feel the need to do so in the name of a specific cause – in one case, a perceived attack on the spiritual sovereignty of a country – to make an international statement of objection. Of course they are also aware that human nature is such that, when confined, will try nevertheless to find a way to achieve that very object from which it has been prohibited. Who are we to make the decision then, that censorship has only negative effects? Yes, granted that it inhibits inclusion in the traditional sense of the word, but then by default, it gives rise to various other channels hitherto unexplored, or the creation of new channels. Case in point: Malala Yousafzai.

  4. Hi Saneeya.
    There is an old English proverb that says “forbidden fruits taste sweeter.” Wherever books have been banned determined readers have found ways of accessing them. Banned materials get driven underground and because of this often are perceived to be more desirable than they were before.
    I am sure that the majority of people who impose banns upon resources that have no intention or proven ability to do harm, do so as a result of some form of paranoia. They fear to engage in debate in case they should lose, whilst those of us involved that this is a possibility, but one we are prepared to face.

  5. I was struck by a few thoughts while reading your blog. The censorship issue parallel with the recent Turkish Government ban on Twitter showed the hypocracy as the Turkish Prime Minister tweeted on the ban while it was in place. George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” came into my mind with “some pigs being more equal than others”. Some Turkish people found their ow way around the ban.
    The second thought was that an inability to download video links is sometimes due to broadband speed. Hence there would be an exclusion of many in Africa as there is insufficient bandwidth so the material would be inaccessible.
    As you say the need to have the written word contain sufficient detail so as to include those with sufficient education and resources to access it seems the most inclusive way forward.
    Now I’m thinking of the man, his son and a donkey….
    Thank you for provoking my thoughts.

  6. Hi Carmel,
    I suppose the difference between imposed censorship for political ends and the broadband speed issue is that the latter is often to do with economics and geography. Living somewhere where I constantly experience low broadband speed I know the frustrations! The Animal Farm analogy is quite right, though I think the manipulations of 1984 came most strongly to mind. Incidentally I note the Turkish government appear to be softening their position. Could this, I wonder, be anything to do with their dependence upon the tourism industry.
    Anyway, I will not cease my publication of video – though I have always been careful to select those that would cause offence only to the most sensitive souls! But I will consider the language used to try and avoid over dependence upon visual images.

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