Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Little Red Book

It was 1972 when I was 11, just old enough to start understanding the real world, but still too young to understand society in any meaningful way. The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie was on at the drive-in in Dowerin. It was the start of the Gough Whitlam era. Cigarette packets began to include health warnings.

We lived in a tiny country town called Minivale on the railway line in the wheat belt of Western Australia. The population was under 100, it was so small there wasn't even a pub, just one single shop.

There came a day when  I over-heard my parents talking with a visitor about some dangerous book. A red book. Apparently The Red Book of Chairman Mao, (who at that time was leading the Chinese in a cultural revolution that was sweeping away the old, and causing great destruction in China.) They spoke of this book in hushed tones, furtively looking around to see if someone was listening - someone like me that is. Apparently it was full of dangerous knowledge, it was evil and subversive, and it must be carefully restricted - especially kept out of the hands of children in whom it might corrupt and even inspire communism. Reds under the beds was the fear of the time !

Well, I had never heard of this book, and would have never been interested until I overheard that talk about keeping it away from children - but obviously I kept an eye out for it - not that an 11 year old had much resources in a tiny town with no library, and it was long before the internet.

So sure enough - one day I found myself alone in a room with that book for an hour or two. So naturally I immediately read it from cover to cover. Wow - what an eye-opener it was - I was astonished.

Of course - it wasn't Chairman Mao's book at all. It was actually The Little Red Schoolbook written in 1969 by S. Hansen and J. Jensen. It was a highly controversial book, which was even banned in some countries. It was targetted at school children, and was designed to inform openly about subjects such as drugs, sex, advertising, and authority. It was shockingly open and direct in a way that I had never seen before, and not often since.  I learned a great deal about the world from that book - but to this day I have no idea who made the confusion about which Red Book it was.

The full book can be read here :
The Little Red School Book

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