Banned Books Awareness: “The Dictionary”



Both the Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Dictionaries have been banned in various schools.

The Merriam-Webster 10th edition was banned in a California elementary school in January, 2010 for its definition of oral sex. The complaint of one parent was enough to incite a witch hunt by Oak Meadows Elementary School officials when they pulled copies of the dictionary from classroom shelves and vowed to \”search for more provocative words\”. The decision was made without consultation with the Menifee Union School District\’s school board and raised concerns among First Amendment experts and some parents, quickly dividing the Southern California community.

\”It’s just not age-appropriate,\” said Menifee Union School District spokeswoman Betti Cadmus. \”It’s hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we’ll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature,\” she said.

Randy Freeman, a father of three children, said, \”[it\’s a] prestigious dictionary but I also imagine there are words in there of concern.\”
Other parents were furious about the ban and demanded the dictionaries be returned. \”Pretty soon the only dictionary in the school will be the Bert and Ernie Dictionary,\” said Emanuel Chavez, a father-of-two.

\”It’s not such a bad thing for a kid to have the wherewithal to go and look up a word he might have heard on the playground,\” said another parent, Jason Rogers. \”What are they going to do next? Pull encyclopedias because they list parts of the human anatomy like the penis and vagina?\”

School board member Rita Peters stated, \”If we’re going to pull a book because it has something on oral sex, then every book in the library with that better be pulled. The standard needs to be consistent. We don’t need parents setting policy.\”

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, stated, \”Whether banning a dictionary would actually violate free-speech laws is a complicated legal question. But the decision to remove the reference books certainly offends free-speech principles and values that all public schools should hold dear.\”

Joan Bertin, executive director of the New York-based National Coalition Against Censorship, whose members include the American Library Association, said dictionary bans have happened in the past, although none have been reported since the mid-1990s. \”In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were efforts to ban the American Heritage dictionary at schools in Alaska, Indiana, Missouri and California. The Merriam-Webster dictionary came under scrutiny in New Mexico in the mid-1990s.\” According to Bertin the The Menifee ban is particularly troubling \”because it is based on one parent\’s complaint.\”

*to read the previous discussion thread visit my original posting of this article on Facebook*

Sources: The American Library Association, the Press-Enterprise ( 1/22/2010, Mail Online World News (UK news site) 1/27/2010

© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions