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Puerto Rico: Debate on Censorship

Anti-censorship poster

Anti-censorship poster posted at Flickr by Andréia

The Department of Education of the government of Puerto Rico recently eliminated five books from the eleventh grade curriculum of the public school system: Antología personal, by José Luis González; El entierro de Cortijo, by Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá; Mejor te lo cuento: antología personal, by Juan Antonio Ramos; Reunión de espejos, an anthology of essays edited by José Luis Vega (all Puerto Rican authors); and Aura, by Carlos Fuentes from Mexico. The public agency justified its action by saying that the books “contain unacceptable language and vocabulary, which is extremely coarse and vulgar.”

The governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, supported the decision: “I think I have been very clear, and that all of the mothers and fathers out there understand perfectly that the books that an 18-year-old can read should not be read by a 12-year-old.” Numerous writers and artists in Puerto Rico publicly voiced their concerns and described the government's action as censorship. The Federation of Teachers also condemned the decision and stated that it “reflects ignorance about the social reality that our students live in, and a backward-looking vision of modern literature as part of the academic curriculum.” After such public pressure, the Department of Education said they had only permanently eliminated one book, but were still evaluating the rest.

The Association of Journalists of Puerto Rico joined writers, professors and artists in an act of protest in front of the Department of Education in Hato Rey, where they read fragments of the books that were removed. Footage of a demonstration against the elimination of books in public school system was posted at YouTube.

Bloggers have also been commenting intensely.The writer Mayra Santos Febres says in Lugarmanigua [ES]:

Temo a la censura. Sobretodo le temo cuando se utiliza “la formación integral de nuestros niños y jóvenes” como excusa para privarlos del contacto con experiencias y sobretodo con libros que los ayuden a desarrollar herramientas para pensar. La reflexión tiene que hacerse en un contexto amplio, sin verjas ni “no pases”. Es imposible pensar: es decir, “sopesar ideas”, cuando estas ideas diferentes, divergentes son sacadas de en medio desde un principio. Cierto es que la educación debe tener en consideración la capacidad de jóvenes y niños para asimilar y digerir información. No vas a servirle churrasco a un bebé de cuatro meses que no tiene dientes. Pero los muchachos de undécimo grado que configuran el estudiantado de Escuelas Públicas de nuestro país, a su edad, ya tienen dientes. Tienen dientes, uñas y garras. Algunos ya tienen bebés de cuatro meses. Ya pueden comer churrasco.

I fear censorship, even more when the “integral formation of our children and youth” is used as an excuse to deprive them of contact and experience, and of books that might help them develop analytical tools. Reflection must be done in a broad context, without iron gates and “do not enter’s”. Its impossible to think, that is, to consider ideas, when different ideas are eliminated from the beginning. It is true that education must take into account the capacity of the young and the children to absorb and digest information. You are not going to give grilled meat to a four month-old baby who has no teeth. But at the age of the kids who are in the eleventh grade in the public schools of our country, they already have teeth. They have teeth, nails, and claws. Some of them even have four-month-old babies. They can eat grilled meat.

The legal scholar recently turned blogger Dora Nevares-Muñiz analyzed the controversy from a legal standpoint:

La censura de textos literarios de parte del Departamento de Educación es inconstitucional y viola derechos de los estudiantes… La censura, aparte de coartar el libre flujo de las ideas y la libertad de expresión atesorada en nuestra Constitución, constituye un acto de violencia de parte del Ejecutivo hacia unos estudiantes que tienen el derecho a recibir una educación que propenda al pleno desarrollo de su personalidad y al reconocimiento de los derechos y libertades fundamentales. El acto de censurar es de por sí un atentado a la libertad de pensamiento y expresión, típico de sociedades intolerantes y totalitarias…La censura no debe tener espacio en el sistema educativo. Una de las metas del sistema escolar debe ser que el estudiante internalice actitudes de tolerancia y respeto ante la diversidad y las personas que tienen ideas discrepantes. Este es uno de los primeros pasos para prevenir la violencia. Los libros censurados se leían en grado undécimo. Se trata de obras reconocidas en Puerto Rico y en el extranjero por su calidad literaria. Un estudiante de Escuela Superior debe tener desarrolladas las destrezas de pensamiento crítico y análisis lógico necesarias para analizar esos libros.

The Department of Education’s censorship of literary texts is unconstitutional and it infringes the rights of the students… Censorship not only restricts the free flow of ideas and the freedom of speech enshrined in our Constitution, but it also constitutes an act of violence perpetrated by the Executive branch against students who have the right to receive a complete education that leads them to the full development of their personalities and the recognition of their fundamental freedoms and rights. The act of censoring is an attempt against freedom of thought and expression, commonly seen in intolerant and totalitarian regimes.

Censorship should have no place in the education system. One of the objectives of the school system should be that students internalize tolerance and respect towards diversity and people who have different opinions. This is one of the first steps in order to prevent violence. The censored books used to be read in eleventh grade. They are well known books in Puerto Rico and other countries due to their literary quality. A high school student should have the necessary critical analytic and logical reasoning skills to be able to analyze these books.

In his blog Lecturas urbanas [ES], Javier Valentín Feliciano remembered his experience in the public school system in Puerto Rico:

Cuando cursé mis doce años de estudios en la escuela pública nunca conocí a ninguna de estas autoras puertorriqueñas, tampoco conocí a escritores hispanoamericanos que estaban en todo su auge como Gabriel García Márquez, el propio Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Luisa Valenzuela, la lista es inmensa. Tuve que esperar muchísimos años para poderme reconocer como hispanoamericano con estos autores. En la escuela pública no los leí, nunca los asignaron. Quién sabe y nunca los hubiera descubierto.

I never read any of these Puerto Rican authors during my 12 years in the public school system. I never read Hispanic-American writers who were at their peak, such as Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes [one of the censored authors], Mario Vargas Llosa, Luis Valenzuela; the list is immense. I had to wait many years to be able to recognize myself as Hispanic-American with these authors. I never read them in school; they were never assigned. Who knows if I would have never discovered them.

*Bloggers posts were translated by the author. The picture is from Andréia's Flickr photostream and has been republished under a Creative Commons licence.

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  • http://www.earlysuccess.com Lily

    Interesting…would we show “R” rated movies to this age group? There is enough vulgarity that our kids will encounter – why condone it by bringing it into the classroom at such a young age. Just because these kids have been exposed to much, doesn’t mean they are ready for it…hense the teen pregnancies. This isn’t about censorship, it’s about being responsible adults…come on!

  • http://www.debatepopular.blogspot.com julio

    With the crisis we are having inthe education in Latin America and the decline of reading books. I think that banning books is a way of violating the freedom of education and culture.

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