Damn! Eighth-Graders Get Burning Example Of Censorship

IRVINE, Calif. - A teacher at Venado Middle School recently assigned her eighth-graders to read "Fahrenheit 451," Ray Bradbury's classic novel about book-burning and suppression of ideas.

But the book had been censored before it was passed out.

Students in Joan Dann's gifted English classes received copies of the book with scores of words - mostly hells and damns - blacked out.

Dann "said she believed a story could be told without having those kinds of words in it," said eighth-grader Kong Chan, 13.

Several students and parents have objected.

"The way Mrs. Dann is censoring the book is kind of going against the book's whole philosophy," said eighth-grader Paul Ledesma.

"Fahrenheit 451" is a science-fiction novel about a society in which firefighters burn down people's houses for the crime of possessing books. It is about leaders controlling people by controlling information.

"It's hard to tell a child that education is open and everything like that and (then) they get a book and it's all blacked out," said Charlotte Simmons, who has a daughter in Dann's class.

Dann, 42, did not return phone calls.

After being contacted by the Register, school officials said yesterday that the censored copies will no longer be used.

"I don't think that we should go through a book and mark things out," Venado Principal Bob Bruce said.

"It won't happen in the future," said Irvine Unified School District Superintendent David Brown.

Did Brown sense the irony involved? Yes, he said. "It's huge. That's what the book was all about."

Students said Dann didn't black out the words herself. She told them that when she first received the books several years ago, she asked the class to cross out profanity as they read.

Students didn't know how long Dann has been using the blacked-out books, which were printed in 1986. Bruce said this is the first time parents have complained to him.

But this is not the first time "Fahrenheit 451" - named for the temperature at which paper burns - has been censored. In a 1979 afterword to the book, Bradbury wrote that the publishers had censored several sections themselves.

Bradbury called that act an "exquisite irony" and demanded that the book be republished "with all the damns and hells back in place."

He added, "There is more than one way to burn a book."

Students said Dann read parts of the afterword to the class.

"She said she thinks Bradbury's an excellent writer, but she doesn't agree with him, which really blew me away," Ledesma said.

"I literally almost fell over in my chair."

Another irony of the incident is that Dann's effort to shield students from the profanity failed. Several said they went to a lot of effort to read each blacked-out word.

"You're really curious to find out what word it was," Chan said.

Chris Stanley, 14, examined a pile of the books before they were passed out - and found one without any words crossed out.

"I wanted to see what kind of words there were in it. I thought there would be really bad words, but there aren't," Stanley said. "We're eighth-graders. Those words are used in everyday speech. They're words that they use in church."

Having an unblemished copy presented Stanley with a dilemma. Dann "told us if we didn't have one where all the words were crossed out, to go ahead and cross them out."

But after thinking about it, Stanley made up his mind. "I'm not going to," he said.