July 07, 2006


Hey, remember awhile back when I blogged about Vamos A Cuba, the Cuban books that the Miami Dade school district tried to ban? Well, the news says they're safe... except now the Miami Herald reports political activists are trying to ban ANOTHER Cuban book.
What IS it with Dade County? Is it still the Elian thing?

For more aggravation, consider the Wilsona School District down in L.A., which has made the questionable decision to remove twenty-three books from all district library shelves. "Books now cannot depict drinking alcohol, smoking, drugs, sex, including "negative sexuality," implied or explicit nudity, cursing, violent crime or weapons, gambling, foul humor and "dark content."' Seriously. And if they don't completely remove the book, they're going to Wite-Out the "inappropriate word." (Kudos to Bookshelves of Doom for this.)

Imagine the library shelves! What's left will be riddled with invisible words. Imagine a world without Artemis Fowl. He's cheerfully negative, a criminal mastermind, is quite foully humorous and darkly content. Oh, whoops, I'm sure that's not what they meant... Apparently, PBS Kids' Clifford series has been wrong all along. The Big Red Dog is objectionable as well.

Imagine The Great Gilly Hopkins dotted with Wite-Out.
I imagine the kids reading it will just make up their own words.

You know, I grew up with parents severely opposed to fiction, so I sort of understand that people can mean well when they want you to just concentrate on things that are true and real. (I'm trying, anyway. Work with me, here.) But reality -- which is what drinking, drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc. is -- as depicted in children's fiction is important. It's important that young people see that some people live the same way they do, and deal with the same things. Equally crucial is the realization that other people live in other ways, and that if a reader chooses to live their life differently when they grow up, it's possible. That's truth. How can anyone honestly object to that?

Rarely do I read a book where potentially kid-unfriendly topics are discussed carelessly. If the Wilsona School District wanted to find some specific books that they felt discussed these topics in a controversial way, and put some kind of warning note on the inside cover like "If you don't understand what you're reading, talk to your teacher, or Mom or Dad," that would be one thing -- a big something, actually, because it's hard for me to even see that as something I'd want done to my book, but I understand that some school librarians feel that they've got that responsibility because they're part of a school. But, them trying to make a judgment call about the maturity and the needs of an entire district, and what they should be exposed to in the world... they're making themselves far more important to the lives and the moral development of the children in their district than they really are.

AND, I must ask again: Has everyone on that board read every book they're removing or vandalizing? Of course not.



David T. Macknet said...

We've entered the Brave New World....

I worked at Barnes & Noble when I was just out of High School (oh, SO many years ago). One of the things we had to do was to go through books which might be objectionable & pull from the shelves those books which had been defaced. We accumulated quite a few over the months that I was there - some of which were the large-format art books containing works by DaVinci and the like.

Apparently the person who was doing the defacing (white-out, razors, markers, etc.) has found a nice cozy job in a library someplace. Creepy.

Michael Caputo said...

July 8, 2006

By Frank Bolanos

Mr. Frank Bolanos is a member of the Miami-Dade School Board

If the Newark, New Jersey school board decided to issue "Little Black Sambo" as a third grade reader, how would that largely African-American community react?

Famed progressive educator Carl L. Marburger posed this question in 1974, when he said controversial schoolbooks in rural West Virginia showed the public school system's "astonishing insensitivity to local cultural values."

Those aggrieved local folks endured the insults, catcalls and jeers of the liberal elite until Marburger, a self-described liberal's liberal, spoke up and gave them pause. Today, the Miami-Dade school board and I are being accused of censorship for our efforts to remove from school libraries "Vamos a Cuba," a children's book that paints a false and distorted portrait of life in communist Cuba.

If the teachers' unions, Herald columnists, the ACLU and Fidel Castro himself are to be believed, the Miami-Dade school board is pillaging school libraries, burning books, oppressing the intellectual freedom of helpless children, and stomping on the First Amendment.

None of this is true; this is not a First Amendment issue. Censorship occurs when government refuses to allow people to purchase material, not when it refuses to provide that material at no charge.

Just as the First Amendment grants basic freedoms to those espousing even the most repugnant of views, I support Alta Schreier's right to author and publish "Vamos a Cuba." I defend the right of any Miami bookstore to sell it and I defend the right of any American to read it. Indeed, let the author promote and sell her book and compete in the marketplace of ideas.

But taxpayers must not be forced to subsidize falsehoods, propaganda or insulting imagery. As Thomas Jefferson, wrote, "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."

Simply put, Jefferson, a framer of the Constitution our critics cite, would see no reason for our schools to spend sparse taxpayer money to promote the circulation of misinformation and lies many in our community equate to oppression and the loss of liberty and life.

If our public schools provided "Little Black Sambo" to African-America children, I would stand with their parents as this would be offensive, racist and an inappropriate use of tax dollars. If our public schools put the grotesquely anti-Semitic children's book "The Poisonous Mushroom" into libraries, I would stand with Jewish parents to oppose this abhorrent act and misappropriation of public funds. The struggle against Cuban communism is no less important.

In 1995, the Miami Herald was forced to trash an entire section after an offensive cartoon of Martin Luther King, Jr. was mistakenly printed inside. Over the nationally syndicated cartoonist's objections, editors made the bold decision to pull a half million copies of the magazine.

They did it by hand; it took two full days. It was hard and expensive work to correct a mistake that took only moments to make. Similarly, a foolish decision by an entrenched bureaucracy had to be corrected and has cost our school district valuable time, money and focus.

After the mess, the Herald's executive editor at the time wrote that the newspaper's First Amendment obligation is "to present the broadest range of perspectives and opinions in its news and opinion pages. But a newspaper also has an obligation to protect its readers from the outrageously offensive or the egregiously insensitive."

If such an obligation exists at a privately funded newspaper, certainly Miami's public officials have a responsibility to assure taxpayers aren't forced to subsidize racism, anti-Semitism or communism with public dollars.

Likewise, taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for entrenched and misguided bureaucrats who want to whitewash the horrors of life under Fidel Castro and his brutal regime.


AJ Harper said...

Just discovered your blog, it's great.
I also agree, they're way too many folks that are making themselves far more important to the lives and the moral development of the children in any district than they really are

tanita✿davis said...

Well that's an interesting op-ed piece. I daresay that the principle can be argued, but I must ask again has everyone read the book? How can anyone decide if they're being asked to foot the bill for "falsehoods, propaganda or insulting imagery"; "misinformation and lies" if they haven't read it?

Additionally, one could spin this particular taxpayers-should-not-be-forced-to-support argument right back into the realm of what we deem as "harmful" for students to read or know. No two taxpayers are ever going to agree on that, thus public education is ever going to run into challenges. Hopefully not everyone will decide as the Wilsona District did...

Finally, the framers of the Constitution did not provision public education as part of everyone's "unalienable rights." As far as I understand my history, and the history of education, that came much later.

Thanks, all, for your astute comments!

David T. Macknet said...

While I agree with the sentiment, and the arguments, the article quoted is flawed, however, as public schooling was not provisioned in the constitution; it came much later, and as such, was not envisioned by the framers. The framers would have had their own offspring educated, but left those of others as ignorant as possible....

Resorting to "what the Framers intended" is a largely false argument, as we're presupposing that the Framers were all-knowing and cared about what we care about - which is patently and obviously false, as we regard their slave-worked plantations, the fact that you couldn't vote unless you were a property-owning male, and the list goes on.

The issue of censorship is one of particular import in the educational arena, as we consider whether or not refusing to present a given opinion constitutes censorship. I believe that it may, provided that the view suppressed is credible enough to be surrounded with honest discussion and debate. To refust to present such a view would constitute censorship, as we are refusing to allow the discussion.

It is not about the book. It is about the discussion surrounding the book. If we do not present the book, we do not encourage the discussion, and we have committed censorship.