Skip to comments.Menifee school panel will review banned dictionary
Posted on 01/25/2010 11:51:13 AM PST by cold666pack
The Menifee Union School District is forming a committee to review whether dictionaries containing the definitions for sexual terms should be permanently banned from the district's classrooms, a district official said Friday.
The 9,000-student K-8 district this week pulled all copies of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary after an Oak Meadows Elementary School parent complained about a child stumbling across definitions for "oral sex."
The decision was made without consultation with the district's school board and has raised concerns among First Amendment experts and some parents.
Other parents and Menifee residents, though, have praised the district's decision, saying a collegiate-level dictionary is inappropriate for younger children.
A memo from the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction this week called the Merriam-Webster dictionary a respected resource but noted district officials found that "a number of referenced words are age-inappropriate."
District spokeswoman Betti Cadmus said Friday that principals, teachers and parents will be on the committee along with district representatives.
The committee will "determine the extent to which the challenged material supports curriculum, the educational appropriateness of the material and its suitability to the age level of the students," according to school district policy.
Cadmus wouldn't estimate how long the committee might take to review the dictionaries.
The collegiate dictionaries were purchased several years ago to allow advanced readers in the fourth and fifth grades to look up words that they didn't know, Cadmus said.
Other less extensive and more elementary dictionaries remain available to students, she said.
The committee will decide what to do with the Merriam-Webster dictionaries if the ban becomes permanent. The district paid $24 for each dictionary, which are currently stored away from students. They might be sold or exchanged for other dictionaries, Cadmus said.
The district received three calls to the superintendent's office about the dictionaries Friday, Cadmus said.
Free-speech and anti-censorship experts called the ban an overreaction.
"If a public school were to remove every book because it contains one word deemed objectionable to some parent, then there would be no books at all in our public libraries," said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, of which The Press-Enterprise is a member. "I think common sense seems to be lacking in this school."
Whether banning a dictionary would actually violate free-speech laws is a complicated legal question, Scheer said. But the decision to remove the reference books "certainly offends free-speech principles and values that all public schools should hold dear," he said.
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 has 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, she said. The Merriam-Webster's dictionary came under scrutiny in New Mexico in the mid-1990s.
"It's rare but not unheard of," Bertin said.
The Menifee ban is particularly troubling, because it is based on one parent's complaint, Bertin said.
The school's committee should review the book before making a decision to take it off the shelves, she said.
"Normally people only use a dictionary to look up a word they have heard or read, which means they have been exposed to the word and are trying to understand," Bertin said.
"This is an example of parents overreacting because of their own personal perspective on what the word reveals and what it means," she said. "They don't want their kids to know this happens."
California Department of Education spokeswoman Tina Jung said parents need to get involved and talk to their children about what they consider appropriate and inappropriate.
"It's quite possible that no one could have foreseen that kids would look up words that pique their curiosity," Jung said.
Raul Avila, who has four children who attend school in the district, two of them at Oak Meadows, said Friday that he had not heard about the dictionary dustup.
"What is the world turning into? The dictionary? Are you serious?" he said. "I think it's an extreme reaction for them to do that."
Avila said it's nearly impossible to prevent children from stumbling upon words and phrases that might be inappropriate for their ages.
"All you've got to do is turn on the TV," he said
Brenda Maple is a former fifth-grade teacher at Oak Meadows and has two young children who attend school in the district. She, too, had not heard about the removal of the dictionaries.
"I think that's overboard," she said.
Pulling the dictionaries from the shelves won't prevent the students from finding potentially objectionable words, she said. They could just as easily look them up during their computer lab sessions in school.
Using the dictionary is a good thing, she said. "That's a skill that you're teaching these fifth-graders -- research. That's a big part of fifth grade," she said.
After all, Maple said, "Who didn't look up bad words when they were kids?"
But Glenn and Barbara Lassiter, whose 10-year-old granddaughter is a student at Oak Meadows, said they think the school district is handling the situation appropriately.
Glenn Lassiter said the district could surely find dictionaries that are designed with younger readers in mind that don't contain explicit references.
Parents and school officials should do all they can to shield young children from explicit terms, Barbara Lassiter said.
"I don't think the school should sit down and just go through everything. That would be an impossible task," she said.
But when something like this comes up that a parent finds objectionable, district officials should consider whether it needs to be removed from the classroom, she said.
"They're doing exactly the right thing," she said.
Staff writer Jeff Horseman contributed to this report.
My dictionary has oral sex in it it says see Bill Clinton
But at the same time, they will teach third-graders every specific detail of homosexual sex.
Actually, this makes sense to the Left. They want to be the ones to tell you what things mean - you don't need no steenkin dictionary. It's like in Europe when the Bible was in Latin, and none of the peasants spoke or read Latin, and the Church's attitude was, "Why do you need to read the Bible? We'll tell you what it says - and what it means."
Exactly, its like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It encourages parents to allow a ‘let the village raise your kid” instead of answering the kids question like an adult should.
The American Library Ass. does not believe in the concept of "age appropriate" books. Just as Planned Parnethood, GLSEN, SEICUS, et al do not believe in a concept of "age appropriate" sexual activity.
Anything goes. Any age. Any time. No moral judgements.
I think even the most bland dictionary made specifically for fourth graders has to have some mention of sex in it. I mean, at what age do kids wonder where babies come from?
Thank you Bill Clinton. I wonder if the definition includes a note: “see also Lewinsky”
This really has nothing to do with Bill Clinton. There has been oral sex happening for a long time before he managed to get it in the mainstream. I think conservatives tend to lose sight of the bigger picture hear which is preventing kids from educating themselves. From seeking out information. Its stupid to reference bill clinton when the bigger issue at hand is not oral xes, but instead censorship.
The decision was made without consultation with the district’s school board and has raised concerns among First Amendment experts and some parents.
The very concept of having government schools at all should sound First Amendment alarm bells. Government schools and the First Amendment and freedom of conscience are utterly incompatible!
Let’s examine this one issue:
There are only **two** possible choices for this government school. They allow the dictionaries or they replace them. It is a binary decision. No matter which decision is made the freedom of conscience of some of the parents will be trampled.
As for the taxpayer they will be forced to pay for it regardless of their religious, political, or cultural beliefs.
so...your answer is to ban govt. schools then? thats helpful/sarcasm.
Im no fan of public schools but they are here to stay so why not try a more reasonable solution? Maybe actually talking to your kids about words they may hear on the playground?
I am annoyed that of all things, there is a lack of good reading and media material in schools today. Nobody seems to be interested in creating or distributing it, though it is not insanely expensive, and would be very instructive.
To start with, in the 1960s, Disney Corporation put out a lot of educational films that are still remembered fondly today, because they showed children of that time wonders around the world that children of today don’t ever see. Everything from the “I’m No Fool” safety series, to The Vanishing Prairie, The Living Desert, and White Wilderness.
Yet with all the amazing wonders of the world, this just isn’t being done anymore.
As far as books go, titles that should be in every school library should include:
1) A collection of biographies of great and important Americans.
2) An introduction to the tribes and empires of the Americas in pre-history.
3) A guide to the United States constitution, and its interpretation.
4) A heavily illustrated outline of world history in multimedia.
5) A survey of the American Military and Military-Industrial Complex. 6) A survey of American Agribusiness, Industry and Mining.
7) Histories of American Art, Culture and Music.
8) American wars and conflicts in history.
9) Religion in America, and a survey of religions.
10) A study of immigrant migration to America.
yes, I am of the thinking that more books rather than less books is a good way to go.
My dictionary doesn't have paid advertisements. I wonder how much it cost Bill to get that ad in the book. "For 'oral sex' contact Bill Clinton (501) 374-4242"
Moreover, it is a referrence book. What kid is randomly wandering through the dictionary? I bet the parent was looking for something to complain about. This is absolutely nuts. No reason for this sort of nonsense. Man people can be soooo stoopid
And not a single one of your cited works is a dictionary. How in the world does one learn to look up words, find roots, find parts of speech, or even grammer instructions without such an aid.
This is overreaction of the extreme kind. Dictionaries ( even a collegiate one) should be available to students. You build vocabulary by using words. One of the aids in that is a good doctionary. I grew up with an unabridged Oxford’s that I was free to roam through at will. Words will not turn you into a monster.
The worst thing is that this is being BLAMED on right wingers. All the comments seem to think (perhaps correctly i dont know) that this is a right wing reactionary idiot doing the whining and it also is smearing all Christians with the same brush when I highly doubt that is the crux of the issue.
On a side note, I do remember as a kid looking up the word “bitch” as well as ‘fellatio’ - and dare I say it was not a gateway to hell.
Yeah I have no idea of which single parent decided to get their knickers in a twist over this. But whoever it is needs to check their own motives
In junior high Peyton Place had just come out so my friend lifted her mom’s copy and we all got together and read the dirty parts at lunch. Scandulous.....
Large and seemingly intractable institutions can lose their legitimacy almost overnight. For example, we have our American Revolution, Martin Luther's thesis nailed to the door, or how about Martin Luther King's “I have a Dream” speech.
Government schools are utterly incompatible with **all** of the provisions in the First Amendment ( speech, press, assembly, establishment of religious worldview, and free practice of religion.) Government schools and freedom of conscience can NOT co-exist! This is a powerful idea that is gaining traction in the larger society.
And...Yes, the only solution is to begin the process of privatizing universal K-12 education.
Please remember that the most powerful things in this universe is an **idea** ( see tag line). That we exist at all began with an idea in the mind of God.
As for my own kids, they were homeschooled. Two had B.S. degrees in mathematics by the age of 18. The oldest has been equally successful in his work. ( They knew plenty of words.)
yeah because Menifee is in a district that is mostly republican base. also noticed Menifee voted down vouchers stating the school system didn’t have enough control over the charter schools.
And the best way to learn new words is to read all kinds of books. The books contain new words in context, and they show how to use them correctly.
Dictionaries ( even a collegiate one) should be available to students.
Absolutely. How else would a student know what a new word means? I personally have M-W set as one of search engines in Firefox, and I use it now and then. There are at least 170,000 English words in existence, and I don't claim to know them all (very few people on Earth can honestly do that.)
Besides, banning a dictionary in school does nothing. How much one must be detached from reality to believe that a curious child won't go to a library and ask for a largest, thickest dictionary there? A librarian will give it to him without a second thought; that's what dictionaries are for. And it's not like a student needs to *always* have a dictionary article about sex or something else in front of him. Once is enough, even if the page is not copied right there in the library.
And in any case, I was curious enough to check, and M-W defines "sex" and "oral sex" in such a dry, expressionless way that hardly anyone could get any excitement out of reading that. A child can get much more just out of reading a newspaper, to say nothing of the TV.
Banning the dictionary will not preent the kids from hearing it from each other and using the internet etc. It is amazing how stupid adults can be.
I happen to agree. In our homeschool with had university level dictionaries. ( More than one.)
However...I am not willing to advocate using the power of the state ( that means police force) to **force** other people's children into an environment that I personally would approve for my children. I am not willing to use the threat of police action to ***force** my neighbor to pay for imposing my personal educational worldview on either my own children or other people's children.
The problem here is that behind every government school ( and its non-neutral religious, political, and cultural worldview ) stand armed police to force the will of the state. ( Real bullets in those guns on the hip.)
There is a solution: We must begin the process of privatizing universal K-12 education. This means vouchers, tax credits, and charters to begin building a private school infrastructure. We must move toward making all government schools into voucher schools and/or charters. Gradually we must move to having parents take on the full responsibility of paying for their own children's education.
I remember getting the book by judy blume, hello god, its me margaret out of the school library just because word on the street was that it was scandalous for having info about boobs in it.
yes, agreed. here here....what he/she said.
I live in one of the reddest counties in the nation. Yet...If an election were held on vouchers my county would also vote down vouchers.
In my county the government schools are the single largest employer with the largest payroll and expenditures of any business in the county. No other business in my county comes even close!
So!...That's a lot of people who directly or indirectly depend on the government schools for a living. Not only are we talking about school employees we also have the vendors and their employees. Even my dentist and his five employees depend on the government school dental insurance that patients bring into the office.
Then add to this that these school employees are **highly** organized politically.
In fact, we have **no** private schools whatsoever in our county. The **only** options available to parents is either homeschooling or the government schools. No church would dare to open a private school because the ministers fear offending the many people in the congregations who benefit either directly or indirectly from the government schools.
I call it the education-industrial complex. (My apologies to Ike Eisenhower.)
My mom still had the best solution for things she didn’t want us to read. We had an extensive library in our own home and some of the books were a bit beyond our understanding. Mom’s solution was to put those books on the book shelves closest to the floor where we could easily reach them. The stuff that she wanted us to read was ‘secretly’ hidden up on the top shelves behind other books. Worked flawlessly
Again purists do no one anygood here. Even if you send your child to a religious school then you run the risk that some nut case parent is going to complain about some word or thought that doesn’t meet their view of the world. Part of our larger problem is that folks are not being taught how to reason. Homeschooling will not guarantee the best possible education because not all parents are equipped to be able to instruct. If you have an ‘outsider’ ( define that as someone other than you) then there is always some risk
I do not dispute the value of dictionaries, but the problem is that the information provided in school libraries is neglectful of some of the grander, more important, and useful parts of American history and culture. It has been simplified, sterilized, and stultified to the point of being meaningless.
Back in the 1960s for example, I know of two men who wrote a book that I put first on the list. That is, biographies of great Americans. They were both superb historians and scholars, and created a worthy collection of the true greats of American history, who were critical to our nation in their time. And most are little known except to historians, today.
It had a picture or portrait, if one existed, of them and the context of their lives, then just a page or two of who these people were and why they truly mattered. Their prose was carefully crafted, erudite, informative and witty.
They brought it to a school textbook publisher. They soon noted a large chart in front of his desk, just a list of words, and they asked him what it meant. It was a list of words at the 5th grade reading level.
Its purpose was that if there was a word in any textbook manuscript, that was not on that chart, it was replaced with one on that chart, so students would never see a word with which they were not familiar.
The two historians then left with their manuscript, and made no further effort to publish it.
My point is that they *should* have published it. Because even though school textbooks are still vandalized for reasons of political correctness, real knowledge *could* make it into school libraries, where at least some students *might* find it.
This could be said of almost any modern publishing. Newspapers, books of almost any type ( even technical ones), movies, radio, etc. Our educational system has been dumbing down content for the masses for over 100 years. Read a McGuffey’s reader and you will see the difference.
You and I agree.
Sounds more like an organized crime racket. Everyone pays twice the far market rate and get less quality for their money and no one dares open competition.
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