U.S. school bans the dictionary
January 26, 2010Cathal Kelly
A Southern California school board has pulled the Merriam-Webster dictionary off its shelves after a parent complained about the entry “oral sex.”
The collegiate-level dictionary was being used in grade four and five classrooms. The school now promises to begin a thorough scouring of the dictionary for other offensive entries.
“It’s hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we’ll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature,” Menifee Union School District spokesperson Betti Cadmus told the local The Press-Enterprise newspaper.
Merriam-Webster defines oral sex as “oral stimulation of the genitals.”
The dictionaries were originally intended for use by children working at advanced reading levels. Now the California town, pop. 70,000, looks like the staging ground for a First Amendment battle.
“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, told The Press-Enterprise. “I think common sense seems to be lacking in this school.”
The decision has divided parents. While some supported the idea of an “age appropriate” reference book, others saw the decision in terms of free speech.
“Censorship in the schools, really?” Emanuel Chavez, the parent of second- and sixth-grade students, said to the Press Enterprise. “Pretty soon the only dictionary in the school library will be the Bert and Ernie dictionary.”