For 'Fahrenheit 451,' future is now

Just a few months ago, a Florida parent asked her local school district to ban a book on her daughter’s middle school reading list.

The superintendent declined the request more politely than most people would have, seeing as how the woman was asking him to ban "Fahrenheit 451."

Perhaps you missed the story — it was overshadowed by irony’s obituary.

For anyone who hasn’t read this classic novel from the great Ray Bradbury, it’s about book banning.

Ha, silly Florida. Once again, South Carolina comes out looking better — this week we only debated banning books about police brutality.

As Post and Courier education reporter Paul Bowers reported Tuesday, a local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police took issue with the freshman reading list from Wando High because it included "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas.

The book is about a teenager who sees her unarmed black friend shot by police officers during a traffic stop. The FOP fears the book is indoctrinating kids with anti-police propaganda.

Sorry, but try to find one instance in history where this has worked out. Banning books is never the answer.

Anyone who reads knows that by now.

Talking points

It’s no surprise that English teachers — heroes and patriots that they are — would assign "The Hate U Give."

Especially at Wando or the University School of the Lowcountry, which are two of the best centers of learning you'll find anywhere.

"The Hate U Give" is an extremely timely, topical book from a young Mississippi writer. With all the stories of questionable police shootings these days — this is, remember, where Walter Scott got killed a few years back — kids ought to be talking about this sort of thing.

Fact is, there are positive, good-guy police characters in "The Hate U Give" (just as the vast majority of officers are in real life). But you’d have to read it to know that.

And everyone knows it’s much easier to balk, get offended and call for a ban than it is to try to understand.

Which is kind of the back-story for the dystopian world of "Fahrenheit 451."

Lowcountry high school students ought to read "The Hate U Give" if for no other reason than to get them talking about current events. For instance, a Charleston police officer and teenager recently got into a scuffle near The Market when the cop stopped him about selling palmetto roses.

Let them debate city ordinances, or talk about how, under no circumstances, is it OK to assault a police officer.

Have them consider how monumentally bad that incident could have gone for the community, the police and the teenager if someone had gotten hurt or worse.

See, good teachers often give their students pertinent assignments that generate all sorts of important discussions.

That’s called education, not indoctrination.

Broken records

Like every community in this country, we’ve got a long history with book banning.

Time was, The Citadel wouldn’t let Pat Conroy’s "The Lords of Discipline" anywhere near campus. But times change, with good reason.

Wando once got criticized for assigning "The Hunt Club" by Bret Lott — largely because of language (the same problem the Florida woman had with Bradbury).

It's an odd time when people are OK with politicians who cuss like a stand-up comic and hurl racially insensitive epithets, but then feign outrage over a little blue language.

The real problem is that we're still dealing with baloney like book banning 65 years after "Fahrenheit 451" was published. Which, incidentally, came out at the height of McCarthyism.

The Pew Research Center says only 24 percent of adults have read even part of a book in the past year. That statistic cuts across urban, suburban and rural folks (although education plays a modest role).

There is an old saying that people who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. And people who don't know history, or realize what a broken record we are living in, are generally the ones who don't read.

So we should be encouraging kids to read everything they can get their hands on and let them make up their own minds. Maybe they’ll even pick up a history book, learn something about our past — and make sure we don't do it again.

We don't need to ban any books, but maybe we should reclassify "Fahrenheit 451." Because it sure doesn't feel like science fiction these days.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.