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Alaskan Range: Shakespeare Banned

"Research from Oxford University last year found that reading, not artistic, athletic, social, or computer pastimes, is the only teen leisure activity that helps them get and hold good jobs,'' writes columnist Greg Hill in this riposte to the book-banners.

Reading how the State of Arizona has banned Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” from its schools as part of its general banning of “ethnic studies” books has left me grateful for encountering some new vocabulary suitable to the occasion. Last week I told you about “The Phrontistery” website that includes scads of word lists. The “Bearing and Carrying” words, for example, include some Alaskan winter-related terms: “barbigerous, bearing a beard,” “estiferous, producing heat,” “securgerous, bearing an axe,” and the melodic “bacciferous, bearing berries.”

The list referring to Arizona’s foolish politicians is the “International House of Logorrhea.” “Logorrhea” means “an excessive flow of words,” which itself applies to some politicians, but in light of banning cultural books, some meaty expressions leapt out from the International House: “cancrizans, moving backward,” “delenda, things to be deleted,” “kenspeckle, easily recognizable … conspicuous,” and “mumpsimus, a view stubbornly held even when shown to be wrong.”

How wrong is wrong? Salon.com reported that in the Tucson school district, “a school district founded by a Mexican-American in which more than 60 percent of the students come from Mexican-American backgrounds, the administration removed every textbook dealing with Mexican-American history.” Librarians can attest to the most common reaction to book bannings: everyone wants to see what’s up.

“Phrontistery,” according to the website by that name, was first used by Aristophanes, albeit mockingly, to describe Socrates’ school. The Arizona legislature’s intentions to stymie teenagers’ study of human culture mock the fundaments of education and will doubtlessly incite a deep interest in ethnic studies among many affected students. You can bet that the books removed from their school libraries will be popular at the local public libraries.

Maybe the officials’ stupidity will unintentionally produce a crop of better-employed young adults. Research from Oxford University last year found that reading, not artistic, athletic, social, or computer pastimes, is the only teen leisure activity that helps them get and hold good jobs. 17,000 people born the same week in May 1970, now in their forties, have been studied at age 16 and again at 33. “Oxford found that there was a 39 percent probability that girls would be in professional or managerial posts at 33 if they had read books at 16, but only a 25 percent chance if they had not. For boys the figures rose from 48 percent to 58 percent if they read books.” They also found that computer games “harmed the children’s prospects. Playing computer games regularly and doing no other activities meant their chances of going to university fell from 24 percent to 19 percent for boys, and from 20 percent to 14 percent for girls.”

A few years ago Brad Isaac wrote “The 26 Major Advantages to Reading More Books and Why 3 in 4 People Are Being Shut Out of Success.” His list of reading’s attributes includes it being “a fundamental skill builder” that improves your vocabulary, and allows learning at your own pace. Isaac also notes that “reading is an active mental process” that “improves concentration and focus” and “gets you away from digital distraction.” Those exposed regularly to hours of “digital distractions” find their brains work differently. They read faster, cover more intellectual territory, and comprehend less, due to their minds’ inability for sustained concentration.

Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, author of the well received “Frames of Mind” wrote, “The human mind is better thought of as a series of relatively separate faculties, with only loose and non-predictable relations with one another, than as a single, all-purpose machine that performs steadily at a certain horsepower, independent of content and context.” It’s clear, reading for pleasure leads to all sorts of mental enhancements that remain undeveloped in nonreaders.

Many members of the Arizona Legislature must be among the latter, and it remains to be seen how Arizona’s electorate feels about the assault on cultural reading. Perhaps they’re like humorist S.J. Perelman, who said, “I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.”


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