Perhaps it’s not that surprising that a mother in Menifee, California, asked the Menifee Union School District to ban all copies of the 10th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary after her child stumbled across the term “oral sex.” What is surprising, indeed horrifying, is that district officials immediately complied with her request, and pulled all dictionaries off classroom shelves throughout the Southern California school district, which serves 9,000 kids, kindergarten through eighth grade.
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.
Parents have every right to complain if they disapprove of a particular book assigned to their child. But for the district to pull those dictionaries without consulting parents, teachers, or the school board is not only ludicrous, it is also wrong. Here’s the District’s Mission Statement: “The Mission of the Menifee Union School District in partnership with students, families, and the changing, diverse Menifee Valley communities is to develop lifelong learners with the skills, knowledge, and desire to be respectful, compassionate, responsible, and contributing citizens by providing a high-quality education in a
nurturing, challenging learning environment in which all children are empowered to reach their full potential.”
What kind of partnership exists if one mother has the power to empty bookshelves of dictionaries? It seems that the district has acted in a way that entirely goes against what it claims that it sets out to do. And how on earth can this be a “challenging learning environment” where students can “reach their full potential” if they are denied access to the most basic reference material?
As Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition says “common sense seems to be lacking in this school.”
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