Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Book Ban? 

There is a controversy in the Miami-Dade School District over a book that is allegedly pro-Castro and distorts the harsh reality of life in Communist Cuba. This appears to be an actual ban on the book appearing on school library shelves, not just a fight over whether it should be part of the required curriculum. During Banned Books Week in 2004, I had this to say about many so-called book bans:
A close examination of what qualifies as "banned" or "challenged" reveals that the [American Library Association] does not want any interference with its choices for acquisitions or curriculum. To them, any complaint about accuracy or age-appropriateness is the equivalent of a book burning.

The Library of Congress is the most comprehensive collection of books that are published in the United States. Every other American library's collection will be a smaller subset of this. Each library must choose which volumes to acquire and shelve. When a librarian makes that choice, it is deemed to be based on quality or pedagogical criteria. When a taxpayer or parent questions that choice, it is deemed to be narrow-minded censorship.

The arrogance is compounded when discussing school curriculum. In choosing a certain book for a certain class in a certain grade, it is necessary to whittle down the millions of books in the Library of Congress to a mere handful. Then students must attend classes, under penalty of truancy, and read the assigned books. Is it wrong for parents and taxpayers in a free society to involve themselves in the choice of books? Should we limit the discussion to those people with degrees in teaching or library science?

Government employees who seek to squelch citizen dissent should be careful when they throw around terms like "censorship."

Here is an excerpt from the Miami-Dade story:

JoNel Newman, a University of Miami professor and ACLU lawyer, said school districts are limited in what they can legally remove from library shelves.

"You can't discriminate on the basis of content, or make political decisions on what you take out of a library," she said.

"It was because of community sensitivity that the book was pulled, and the First Amendment doesn't allow that," she said.

Frank Bolanos, the school board member who led the fight to ban "A Visit to Cuba," said the case is not about free speech, vowing he would defend the right of author Alta Schreier to write the book, of the publisher to print it and of a citizen to buy it.

"But we cannot and must not use taxpayer dollars to buy communist propaganda," he said.
Here in Minnesota, one school district had a fight over Peg Kehret's book, Abducted. The book was criticized for its age-appropriateness, rather than its accuracy or political perspective. One school employee had this to say about the unsuccessful effort by one concerned parent:
"The committee did their job and realized we can't censor a book like that over one parent's concern," said Linda Carlson, the media specialist at Apple Valley's Westview Elementary who presented to the committee why the book had been chosen in the first place. "I'm very pleased."
This quote flies in the face of what the ACLU is arguing in the Miami-Dade case. The ACLU claims to be protecting minority viewpoints against the majority "community sensitivity." The media specialist from Apple Valley seems to be saying that the merits of removing Abducted from library shelves would be stronger of more parents had expressed outrage.

In blog-speak, this story is "developing...."