Friday, August 6, 2010

Food for thoughts

They’ve caused riots. They’ve been burned for what they stand for. They transport us to faraway places: into the past and the future, or to worlds that exist only in their writers’ imaginations. Yes, often we only associate books with hours of absorbing entertainment, but the ideas within them can change the very fabric of society.

This often has not sat well with authorities and other parts of society. For example, the Catholic Church used to publish an Index of Forbidden Books (Index Librorum Prohibitum) that declared the works of writers like Galileo Galilei, Immanuel Kant and Victor Hugo, among thousands of others, unfit for the consumption of its flock. The threat of excommunication loomed over anyone who dared part the covers of such “immmoral” works. The index was abolished in 1966, after over four hundred years.

In the same vein, people have burned books they deem offensive or contrary to their chosen beliefs. The most well-known example is that of the Nazis destroying books they deemed were at odds to with policies.

Books of great thinkers such as Karl Marx and Charles Darwin have changed the way we as humans view our world. Sure, there is also a lot of drivel out there – but, as we know, what some consider drivel, others consider literary masterpieces.

The idea is to let people get exposed to the drivel, the classics and the philosophical musings of hundreds of authors, so that they may learn about their world, its history, and about themselves.

While the act of burning books is repulsive, at least the individuals doing the torching had had access to other sources of information – some of them undoubtedly books – that allowed them to form such a strong opinion on, well, others’ opinions. The Nazis and the Harry Potter-torching fundamentalists at least had books to burn.

These thoughts crawled their way through my sluggish brain as I waited for the last few hours of the Fast for Equal Education to pass. The campaign aims to equip every school in South Africa with a library so that the country’s learners grow up to be informed and opinionated individuals.

Denying the mind books is like denying the stomach food. People must be exposed to views that challenge their own so that they may learn to think critically, so that they may have an informed opinion.

It is clear to see then that Equal Education is not just about giving township kids access to Twilight and Harry Potter (although that has its place too): It is about planting the seeds of imagination and wonder, and about opening their minds to new possibilities, so that they can reach their full potential.

A good education is the foundation on which the democratic and economic future of our country depends.

I leave you with the words of American author Anne Herbert:
"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."

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