Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Banned in Menifee, California Schools

Remarkable. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Collegiate Edition, has been banned by the Menifee School District in Menifee, California. Why you say? Evidently, a child discovered a reference to the phrase "oral sex" and his or her parent/s complained according to the Riverside County Press Enterprise. No discussion, no vote, not even any contact with the school board. All copies of the dictionary were pulled off the shelves and:
"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."
Evidently a committee is being formed to review the situation and:
"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." 
A number of years ago, the State of Washington introduced a new, and mandatory, AIDS curriculum at the middle-school level. Parents could waive the participation of their children, but in order to do so, the parent/s were required to review the materials first. Being new in town and also eager to see how the subject was to be handled, I attended the parent session. It was conducted just as it would be taught to our children and I thought, very well done. After the class, we were divided into small discussion groups and I had my first experience of small-town small-mindedness and bigotry. This is not to say that this mind-set would not have existed in the big city from which we had come, but if so, I had not yet experienced it directly.

I was appalled to discover how many parents truly believed that if their children did not know something existed, then their was no danger of their being affected by it. If children did not know that such a thing as homosexuality existed, then, there was no risk that they would ever engage in homosexual behavior (these were people who could not conceive of homosexuality as a state of being rather than a behavior). If children did not know about sexuality, then they would not be sexual. If they were taught about birth control, then that was permission to engage in sexual activity. When I made a comment about critical thinking--along the lines of wanting my children to have as much information as possible so that they could think critically and make up their own minds about things, one of the mothers said "I don't want my children to think critically. We tell them what to think and what to believe." And all the other parents nodded and agreed. I laughed, thinking they were joking. But they were not.

This decision in Menifee has gotten little attention and upon learning about it, very few parents objected. Dictionaries are used to look things up, meaning that if a child has not first heard the word or phrase, it is not likely they would go to the dictionary to find its meaning, and, with all the computers available in the schools (and most homes), a simple search would provide a much more in-depth response (with images) and faster than any dictionary could provide.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.


  1. I'm always surprised that many Americans don't realize that this kind of behaviour is really a part of what they are. In short Kyra, if you don't move to another country then you are going to be forever trying to figure out where these nutbars are coming from. Anyway, that's for you to figure out.

    So on homosexuality, is it nature or nurture? Or a bit of both? Do you have the courage to talk about it?

  2. "I don't want my children to think critically. We tell them what to think and what to believe."

    That is one of the most frightening things I've ever read. Those children have NO future.

    I'm...I'm just speechless.

  3. Verbose,
    You have to understand, this is a community made up of (for the most part) extremely conservative, fundamentalist Christians. They didn't know quite what to do with me obviously! It is a not unusual mindset for fundamentalist Christians. Questioning is not a desirable trait.