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“If You Assign My Book, Don’t Censor It” Critique

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In “ If You Assign My Book, Don’t Censor It” published in the Washington Post on November 28, 1999 Mark Mathabane argues that the decision taken by officials of Kearsley High-School in Flint, Mich. of censoring “Kaffir Boy” is unnecessary and disrespectful. He gives a series of examples of how it is a bad decision to censor the content of a book since most of the times this distorts the main ideas and the purpose of the text itself. Kaffir Boy is a novel about Mathabane’s life in South Africa, during the apartheid period. Although Mark agrees that some of the content is a little harsh and might not be suitable for a younger audience, he greatly disagrees with the idea of censuring sentences in the book, he later defends this by stating that books are not written with the comfort of readers in mind. Mathabane also suggests that if the important and mature scenes in the novel are taken out, the most important aspects for the knowledge and significance of the story will be destroyed. At the end he offers some possible solutions like the creation of reading-list guidelines.

Mathabane’s article makes a good use of logic, establishes credibility by using some of his personal experiences and by using a positive attitude. He emotionally appeals the audience and offers a good, clear solution that provides the reader with alternative points of view about the subject. In the first paragraph Mathabane refutes the decision made by school officials to censor “Kafir Boy” and tap several sentences of the book. According to the article, the decision was made after a half- dozen parents disagreed with the graphic descriptions from the book, especially from one of the scenes that Mathabane consider is crucial for the understanding of some important values and lessons. In the scene he talks about how he and his friends became engaged in prostitution in order to get money for food.

Mathabane ended up saying no, and was talked about by his peers. The logic that Mathabane uses in this scene is that “resisting peer pressure is one of the toughest things for young people to do” (Mathabane). He later says, “Teenagers understand what peer pressure is. They confront tough choices every day, particularly if they happen to be in enviroments where child abuse, poverty, violence and death are common place, where innocence dies young, and children can’t afford to be children” (Mathabane). Although this statement is true and the value applies to most teenagers he fails to generalize and stereotype them. The truth is that some kids also have strong values and pressure does not have much of an impact on their decisions. Having this in mind and considering that every reader is different, he will possibly influence some readers negatively and positively so it can still work in his favor. Overall, the logic is still good and the use of this scene as an example clearly reflects Mathabane’s passion to teach others and to show how to overcome this kind of pressure. Mathabane also uses pathos in this scene to gain the favor of the audience.

He later states “I included it in the book not to titillate readers, but to reveal a disturbing truth about life under apartheid” (Mathabane). By simply explaining what happened to him in the prostitution scene he is able to pull a great deal of sympathy from the audience for support from his point of view. Mathabane is able to do that too when he explains how disturbing and horrific it was to be a child under the apartheid system. His descriptions of how poor his family were and how hopelessness and psychic pain almost let him to commit suicide at the age of 10 is sufficient to move the heart of any reader. He also explains how every year he talks to thousands of students about his work in South Africa, how it was prohibited to read certain books and how dreadful the situation really was (Assimov). By doing so he motivates Americans and the readers in general to think of how fortunate they are to live in a free country. All of this combined with a vivid description of scenes and the use of a great deal of adjectives to make emotions even stronger helps this article to be highly persuasive.

Equally important is how Mathabane makes use of Ethos through the article by sharing his personal experiences. He takes advantage of the fact that he is telling his story by first hand making it more credible. The way he tells his experiences make the readers understand how badly the situation really was during apartheid, like when he states “And I recall how, during the Soweto uprising of 1976, hundreds of students died fighting for recognition of their unalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Mathabane). Also by stating “ I recall for them how my peers and I were forbidden by the government in Pretoria to read the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights” (Mathabane). Both of these sentences raise credibility by making the reader realize how important basic essentials and life rights really are. It can even help the reader to arouse some sort of gratefulness and respect for the book. Another good thing is that, while telling his personal experiences, Mathabane has raised a good amount of credivility among his readers giving him also the opportunity to reveice countless mails and letters that give him a big amount of feedback.

“The book, they’ve told me in letters and e-mails, teaches them to never give up in the face of adversity not to take freedom, or food for granted, to regard education as a powerful weapon of hope, and always to strive to do the right thing” (Mathabane). By stating this, Mathabane demonstrates that he has the credentials to talk about the subject and the evidence that he has already influenced and changed some lifes, that his book is indeed being benefical for some readers and that it helps them to be more appreciative of their freedom. Finally, Mathabane is quite intelligent when he takes the position to really understand the other side’s issue. He describes himself as someone who is constantly taking care of what his children are reading so he understands what parents feel when they thing that some texts might not be suitable for their offspring.

“As a parent of three public school students, ages 6, 8, and 10, I pay attention to what they are assigned to read” (Mathabane). He later admits that “Kafir Boy” is in fact a mature book, but that it can be read adjusted accordingly to a student’s maturity level. By presenting both sides of the argument, Mathabane is sable to show the reader that he can establish a strong argument. Mathabane’s use of logos, pathos and ethos and the use of personal experience added to a possitive attitude that he mantains through the text make the article very convincing and highly persuasive. His empathy with the reader gives him a great deal of credivility.. With his statements Mathabane develops well his whole point by letting everyone know that the book should be read at its entirety, without any changes and that school teachers should not tammper over the important parts that define the book if they are going to use it in their learning curriculum.

Works Cited

Assimov, Nanette. “Banned autor talks to kids.” sfgate.com. The San Francisco Chronicle, 2 May 2007. Web. 4 August 2013. Mathabane, Mark. “If You Assign My Book, Don’t Censor It.” The Washington Post 28 Nov. 2013; B1. Print.

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