Lord of the Flies?

Is there anyone who didn’t read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies when we were in junior high school? Golding’s bleak view of human nature left me depressed for a week–which isn’t hard to do when you’re in junior high school.

Well, here’s something to cheer you up. There is hope for us yet. Perhaps, plenty of hope.

My friend Gwen Martin came to visit last week. Gwen teaches at an international school in Tunisia. She told me a terrific story that I’d like to share.

When the new school opened, Gwen was responsible for making sure the books in the library met the requirements of the Ministry of Education. Some of these may strike us as odd, but official requirements have to be taken seriously, especially since officials from the ministry would be coming to visit the school to make sure it was in compliance. Gwen had to go through all the books on mythology and ancient Greece and Rome to make sure that any photographs or illustrations of nudes were covered up. This involved taking a magic marker and putting bathing suits on ancient statues. (Tunisia, once an important part of the Roman Empire, is full of ancient ruins and statues.)

Another and perhaps more serious issue was covering up all references to Israel in  encyclopedias and other reference material. Black paper was pasted over the pages in question to make sure students couldn’t access them.

The ministry officials made their visit and ruled that the school met all  requirements. When the school finally opened, the students couldn’t wait to explore the new books. As Gwen told me the story, they started pouring through the encyclopedias and immediately noticed that certain sections had been blacked out. They wanted to know what was going on. What had been covered up so that they couldn’t read it?

Mohammed, a fourth grader, caught on right away. “It’s Israel,” he told his classmates. “They covered up all the articles about Israel. They do that all the time.”

Then, as Gwen told me, he sighed and said, “How are we going to live with them if we aren’t allowed to learn anything about them?”

In Golding’s book, it’s the grown-ups who arrive in the end to redeem the children from savagery. If you ask me, in real life it’s more likely to be the other way around.

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