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Why I chose not to censor Compelling Conversations to increase accessibility
“Only the educated are free.”
Many English teachers have asked if I plan a “culturally sensitive” version so Compelling Conversations can be used in more countries.
For instance, China censors not only their classrooms, but has created a great electronic fallwall so its citizens can not find information on Tibet, Taiwan, democracy, or free speech. China’s educational leaders, perhaps the most important market for many English language programs and books, simply wants “harmonious communication”, not discord, goes the argument. Likewise, Saudi Arabia – where women are banned from driving, Islam reigns as the one and only religious faith, and free speech is forbidden – wants books where relations between men and women go unasked. Why not accommodate the local rulers and pander to the prejudices of the powers to be? Sales will surely increase.
No doubt, sales would increase. Yet I prefer not to censor myself or support local tyrants. Consider me a “live and let live, speak and let speak” teacher. As Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence declared, “resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” Asking simple questions and sharing personal experiences, without worrying about what some government official might think, seems reasonable. Freedom is still a good idea.
Originally written for immigrants and refugees coming into the United States, Compelling Conversations – Vietnam: Speaking Exercises for Vietnamese Learners of Englishand Quotations on Timeless Topics allows students to share, candidly, their personal stories. Some fled to avoid persecution, some escaped civil wars and economic poverty, and some sought more free to just be themselves and create a new, usually better life.
I’m even a bit flattered that my tiny little website is blocked by a few governments addicted to censorship and trying to stop their citizens from asking questions. My book simply asks over 1400 questions, shares a few hundred proverbs, and demonstrates how brilliant women and men have disagreed on many issues through out history.
Conversation matters, especially during times of war and hysteria. I’m trying to help English language learners develop their conversation skills, reflect on their experiences, and exchange insights with other fellow human beings. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes powerful people abuse their authority. Sometimes little people suffer because of the mistakes and decisions of the more powerful. If some government or authority feels that these questions are too dangerous, uncomfortable, or impolite, than so be it.
Asking questions and simple conversation help us clarify and understand our world. I’m perfectly comfortable with every question that is asked in this book, and emphasize many times that students can just decline to respond if they feel less comfortable. (Learning how to say “no” is also a good conversation skill to master!) Yet it’s a very different situation for a student – an individual – to choose to pass over a question and for a censor to block a website, ban a book, or prohibit a question. I prefer to treat all adults as adults.
Sorry for the long rant, but that’s why I have declined to create a “censor’s version” that would eliminate questions of elections, corruption, women’s rights, or double standards. Freedom, including the freedom to ask simple questions, still seems like a good idea to me.
What about you?
Ask more. Know more. Share more.
Create Compelling Conversations.