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When Is It OK To Ban Books?

2588186224_16e1ba8f57_m Submitted by Danny Grubb, Seattle, WA

Recently California's Manifee Union School District banned the Dictionary because the phrase "Oral Sex". It deemed that the phrase was not age appropriate and had to review the appropriateness of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (MWCD) in its classroom. It wasn't even a student who found the term, it was a parent. The school district has since read the Dictionary and approved it for use by its 4th and 5th grade classes unless a parent objects. In those cases there is a dumbed down version of the Dictionary that the student can use. To be fair, there were objections from other parents to the ban, but fear held sway.

Dictionaries Have Words We Use

What that means to the rest of us is that whatever were talking about gets into the dictionary. If were talking about "Oral Sex" then they have to define it. Its their job. The words Genocide, Decapitate and Disembowel are probably in both the Collegiate and the dumbed down Dictionaries, but in the Manifee Union School District parents for some reason are much more afraid of sexual references than violence.

Dirty Word + 10 Year Old = Giggling!

I know enough about 10 year olds to know that the worst that would happen is giggling. The definition used in the MWCD was "Oral Stimulation of the genitals". Not only is this a very hard phrase to giggle at, the students would have likely had to look up 2 or 3 more words to really understand the meaning of the phrase. It would have been the most motivated learning they did all year. Because nothing's funnier than a dirty word, especially one that the parents show fear towards.

Only Boneheads Ban Books

Yes there are books out there that you probably wouldn't want your 10 year old to read. Fine, I'll concede that point. But at home and in the classroom having these books around if anything is more appropriate because there are adults to provide context. I don't think that I've ever cracked a dictionary anywhere else but at home and at school. Are you telling me that a teacher doesn't notice if a student picks up a Dictionary? When I was going to school you only cracked that book when you had an assignment! Not for fun.

So these kids have learned that you can ban an entire body of work over one phrase. They have also learned that anything with dirty words is unfit for reading. The parents who are sticking to their guns on this issue will have students who read very thin dictionaries if only "age appropriate" words are left in.  I don’t know about anyone else, but when I was 10 I could make any word sound dirty.

But enough about what I think, do you think this ban was appropriate?

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