Racism and Sexism – Teaching Children About Our Literary Past

The banning of books is, unfortunately, not an uncommon phenomenon. Popular novels such as Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye and Fahrenheit 451 are among the well-known novels that have been banned in the past (how ironic to ban a book about book burnings!)

This week, book banning reached a new height, when Sean Crosier, headmaster of Huncoat Primary School in Lancashire, England, removed the selection of Enid Blyton classics from the schools library that he deemed to “reflect outdated attitudes”. This in itself might not seem to be a big deal, had it not been a calculated move in the aim to win the Lancashire County Council’s Race Award, which is given to schools which “eliminate discrimination, promote equal opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups“.

Enid Blyton is a well-known writer of much loved children’s stories such as “The Adventurous Five” , “The Faraway Tree” and the classic “Noddy” series. The author wrote over 600 books before her death in 1968.

Enid Blyton

Of course, being written in the early 20th Century, many novels feature names that were fashionable at the time but could be deemed racist or sexist now. In the 1990s, many of Blyton’s novels were edited to adjust these elements for modern readers. In The Faraway Tree, “Fanny” was changed to “Franny”, and “Dick” to “Richard”.

Among the dumped books are firm favourite The Famous Five classics, which were reportedly dumped because they had ‘inappropriate ethnic stereotypes’ with references to gypsies, golliwogs and a dog with a name starting with ‘N’.

While I in no way condone racism or sexism, I find it ridiculous to remove these books on the grounds that they could be misconstrued. These books did not include names such as “Fanny” or “Dick” in order to be rude or sexist; it is simply a reflection of the time the books were written. I firmly believe that instead of removing the books and basically teaching our students that these words were never used, we should be showing our children how our society has changed.

When I was young, sure, I giggled at “Dick”, but after that was over, I was firmly engrossed within the magic that is Blyton’s writing. I didn’t see the naughty Golliwogs as representations of black people; they were just naughty mythical creatures no different to the cheeky pixies… I asked my mum about the strange names and learnt about our history, and how it came to be that these names were rude. I learnt about how “gay” meant happy. I learnt that the English language has evolved.

Instead of giving the Race Award to schools who remove these books from their shelves, it is my strong opinion that the Lancashire County Council should offer the award to a school who actively shows its students this aspect of our literary past, teaching them how literature and global attitudes have changed.

Racism and sexism cannot stop if we bury our heads in the sand and forget our past.

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One thought on “Racism and Sexism – Teaching Children About Our Literary Past

  1. “I firmly believe that instead of removing the books and basically teaching our students that these words were never used, we should be showing our children how our society has changed.”
    I’ll second that! It’s impossible to erase the past, and attempting to pretend it didn’t happen teaches us nothing.

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