Soka Education Conference 2014

10th Annual Soka Education Conference

Soka University of America
Aliso Viejo, California

The Soka Education Student Research Project (SESRP) is a student-initiated and student-run project at Soka University. Project members engage in the study, research, and exhibition of Soka Education as a unique educational philosophy.

SUNDAY, February 16th, 3 p.m.

Banned Books and the Social Control of Knowledge

WITH Ryan Caldwell, Aneil Rallin, Kristi Wilson, Esther Chang and Tomas Crowder-Taraborrelli

Banned books during the last Argentine dictatorship

Book Burning Centro Editor de America Latina

Education makes us free. The world of knowledge and of the intellect is where all people can meet and converse. Education liberates people from prejudice. It frees the human heart from its violent passions

Daisaku Ikeda

Just this October, 2013, in Randolph County, North Carolina, Ralph Ellison’s historic award-winning novel The Invisible Man was banned by the Board of Education and labeled as “filthy” and devoid of “literary value.” Fortunately, in less than 48 hours, grassroots organization Color of Change created an online petition denouncing Randolph County’s local decision-makers for their complicity in the erasure of Black stories from the American literary landscape. The language of the petition stated that “the marginalization of Black stories in America’s schools will not be tolerated” and pointed to the dangerous fact that book banning is alive and well in many parts of the country: “ignorant, unjust policies that harm our communities are enacted by local decision makers all the time, often beneath the radar of national media and avoiding the scrutiny they deserve.” Color of Change pointed out that literary superstars like Toni Morrison and Richard Wright have also come under attack. This workshop explores the ongoing phenomenon of banned books from a theoretical perspective that engages with notions of power, ideology, knowledge creation and erasure at all levels of education from grade school to the university (where “banning” might take subtler forms like censorship). In addition, practical examples will be applied.

Many critical theorists have argued that knowledge creations are associated with power ideologies stating that modernist theory paradigmatically rests upon a foundation of reason and rationality as the privileged locus for both objectivity and claims of universal truth. Within this theoretical canopy, ideas of justice, fairness, and liberty have been conceptualized as products of the Western Enlightenment Project. As a part of this modernist paradigm, reason is defined as a coherent and healthy balance within society, where it is argued that rationality itself allows for the organism of society itself to function properly. This paradigm of modern thought, which directly informs foundational modern theoretical presuppositions, in turn comes to define notions of the “good,” and thus serves to both reify and maintain given modernist social constructions of reason and rationality. Furthermore, these modernist presuppositions instruct social conceptual schemes from which society is understood and organized. It is in this way that modernist notions of reason and rationality become the symbolic measure for theorizing and conceptualization, and subsequently the associated social constructions of knowledge that spring forth. These constructions themselves come to represent and function as the standard for thought, order, and the very basis of what some consider “respectable science”– and as applied to this workshop, “respectable book reading” and the further suppression of educational materials.

However, many have argued that modernist grand-narrative schema serve to facilitate an oppressive and privileged position that is justified with reference to only certain conceptions of reason and rationality, namely those conceptions of the socially powerful. Feminist and queer theorists, for example, argue in different ways that the voices or perspectives of those with little social power are silenced within modernist conceptual schemes ordered around patriarchal societies. This line of argument rests upon the idea that those with social power are able to dictate the standard of reason itself, thereby delineating its benchmark. This grand-narrative of reason serves as the basis for theory construction and informs feminist examinations of how science is done or understood, how knowledge is created, how gender is done, how sex categories are understood, how sexuality comes to be understood, among many other modes of feminist conjecture. Nonetheless, this kind of power can be used to socially construct oppressive schema for knowledge construction using race/ethnicity, capitalism, nationalism, and other forms of discriminatory theorizing.

Daisaku Ikeda warns, “Education should not be based on or limited by a nationalist agenda. Education must cultivate the wisdom to reject and resist violence in all its forms. It must foster people who intuitively understand and know—in their mind, in their heart, with their entire being—the irreplaceable value of human beings and the natural world. I believe such education embodies the timeless struggle of human civilization to create an unerring path to peace” ( It is this kind of warning about the agenda to ban books, surveillance around educational materials, educational censorship and erasures that we will discuss in this hands-on workshop.

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