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‘See the Busy Book-Burners’

It is indeed hard to believe that “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Diary of Anne Frank,” as your editorial asserts, “are still the objects of censorship in the nation’s public schools.”

But it is not so much the censorship issue as your more sweeping remarks on “the purpose of education” that concern me. For example, you write: “Students should be taught the critical ability to evaluate different ideas and to come to their own conclusions.” I agree, of course, that they should be taught the rules of language, logic and argument, that they think for themselves. As a teacher, however, I look for something in answer to these further questions:

--If students are to “evaluate different ideas,” according to what standard do they carry out this evaluation?

--Doesn’t it matter whether “their own conclusions” are true?

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What bothers me is that your editorial implies that, at least for the fundamental human questions that literature deals with, truth is decided according to individual orientation or preference, that contradictory conclusions are simultaneously acceptable as long as they are personally reached. If this is your idea, my own conclusion, after critical evaluation, is that it is wrong! It must be wrong if human beings can hope to talk meaningfully and live well with one another.

I am not convinced that the main reason we want our students to read the books you mention is that “the world is very complicated, and young people should be exposed to a wide range of opinions and attitudes that reflect that complexity.” The real reason is that, in such a difficult world, good books, critically read, can help students discover for themselves the truth about themselves and their world.

JAMES N. LOUGHRAN SJ

President, Loyola Marymount University

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Los Angeles


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