She made us read it our junior and senior years of high school, Mrs. Kee did. Fahrenheit 451 was one of many other classics that were required of our reading, so we read them like we were supposed to and came up with whatever answers we thought would get us the grade we needed.
And then the book went on the shelves afterward like all the old classics did. This classic from circa 1950, and already forgotten by 2002…much less by 2012.
But ten years later, noticed on those center sections in the bookstores where we pretend we know what we are looking for, I spotted it among the list of high school summer reading. And with Mrs. Kee on my mind these last several months for some reason, I bought the book and read it the whole road trip there and back.
“…hold onto one thought: You’re not important. You’re not anything. Some day the load we’re carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting in the graves of all the poor ones who died before us…”
My biggest notion the entire time I reread this high school assignment was how ignorant we all were as we were asked to read this incredibly important work. And even still, ten years later as I began hearing about “recommended reading lists” and “don’t read lists” and “ask these questions” and “here are your answers” and “too much information will just confuse them” and “only one percent could ever understand” and “just give them something to hang their hats on” being phrases tossed about as if common leadership protocol, the reason Mrs. Kee assigned the book in the first place became all the more important.
And so did picking it up again ten years later.
The book describes a world of the future, written in the 1950s lest we forget, where entire walls of living rooms were taken up with TV screens and “reality” programming. Earbud headphones were commonplace and firemen burned down houses with intellectual contraband instead of putting out fires.
And a ragtag group huddled in the woods, whose ideas had put them on the street, who reminded each other…
“…hold onto one thought: You’re not important. You’re not anything. Some day the load we’re carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn’t use what we got out of them…”
I think remembering this book, buried deep in the places we bury most of what we value when we are young––where we bury what it is about encouraging dissent, opinions, opposing views, challenges, diversity, thoughtfulness and disagreement––it is in remembering that the importance of continuing to evaluate the voices we have decided have no value, have no right, are better shut out…it is in noticing what those voices are and what we are afraid of in them that I can follow Bradbury’s words.
And Mrs. Kee’s words.
And the words of those who have come before us, and who have learned before us, the danger is silencing those who speak in opposition of us.
It is in the dialogue that the truth is always found.
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