What happens when your child stumbles across the term “oral sex” at school? No, it wasn’t a Catholic school, and it wasn’t an extra credit assignment.* A child in Menifee, California, found the term in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, and the child’s mother has requested that the book (again: the dictionary) be banned from the school. Worse? The Menifee Union School District pulled the dictionaries, not just from that school, but from the entire school district! From Judy Molland:
District officials said on Friday that they are forming a committee to consider a permanent classroom ban of the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. District spokeswoman Betti Cadmus said that school officials will review the dictionary to decide if it should be permanently banned because of the “sexually graphic” entry. “It’s hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we’ll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature,” Cadmus said. (Isn’t that just what those fourth and fifth graders like to do?!)
Apparently some parents and free-speech advocates believe that district officials are overreacting. No kidding! Let’s put this in perspective: every year, public schools across the country receive hundreds of requests from parents, public officials and activists to remove books they consider inappropriate. Between 1990 and 2008, the American Library Association logged more than 9,600 requests to take books away from library shelves, summer reading lists and school classrooms. Most of these challenged books remain on the shelves.
I do not know where to start here, so I’m just going to go with a numbered list, and hopefully I’ll rant everything out of my system.
1. A parent requested a ban on…the dictionary?
2. The dictionary?!?!
3. *This is my head hitting the desk*
4. It’s one thing to ask for literature to be banned because parents find it objectionable. It’s ridiculous, and it’s the antithesis of creating a climate conducive to real education, but the dictionary?!?!
5. Like, for instance, the braintrust at PFOX are all about banning some books, and working to get “alternate viewpoints” on homosexuality into libraries. They usually fail miserably at this task, because libraries are about education. As soon as they come up with a credible argument, libraries will become a bit more receptive to their foolishness.
6. Raise your hand if you, as a child, never flipped through a dictionary looking for dirty stuff. It’s sort of a part of childhood, from what I can tell. Usually, by age 13 or so, you’ve processed the knowledge that even grown-up stuff is in the dictionary, and you’ve pretty much gotten over it.
7. What kind of a dishonest, anti-education message does this send to those kids? Not only that the parent requested it, but that the school district complied! This is a moment where the school district should have politely informed the sub-literate mother that dictionaries are part of learning, and that if she doesn’t like it, she’s free to home-school her little darling. (Why? Because, from my experience, even Evangelical-run Christian schools have the frickin’ Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary! We may disagree on a lot of things, but Americans across the board tend to agree that when you need to know what a word means, how to say it, or how to spell it, you look it up in the dictionary. So, yeah, if Mommy doesn’t like it, she can take the poor dear out and teach it whatever kind of intelligunt desine form of spelling she wants.)
Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying.
As P.Z. Myers points out, this is all part of a larger trend, as Texas (the second largest textbook purchaser in the nation) is currently banning books right and left and trying its damnedest to remove actual history from the books and replace it with a made-up fantasy narrative — e.g. Take out all the business about Martin Luther King, Jr., and replace it with Rush Limbaugh! Uh huh. One of P.Z.’s commenters raises a very interesting point about the very nature of the American Right’s crusade to ban knowledge:
Knowledge is offensive to people like this, I notice. It’s only particular knowledge, however: when was the last time you heard about someone protesting dictionaries because they contained entries like genocide, torture, rape, famine, war, and faith-based initiatives?
Why, of course not! Republican gun-toting Jesus loves all of those things!
I am truly worried for the future of this country, because there is a subset of the population that is absolutely hellbent on raising a new generation of sycophantic morons.
*Ha ha! I kid the Catholics.