initial concern with saving souls too often becomes the
"camel's nose in the tent"—or book. Once
its nose is in there, it's just a matter of time before
it tries to take over your tent. Here are two such cases,
one involving an adult memoir and the other a children's
Robert Giroux (New
York Times Book Review, October 11, 1998, p. 35)
recalls that when the young Trappist monk Thomas
Merton finished his manuscript of The
Seven Storey Mountain, it was passed through religious
channels for approval. Finally it reached a censor
who thought its "colloquial prose style" unbefitting
a monk and ruled it should be put aside until its author "learned
to write decent English."
Only Merton's personal appeal to the
Abbot General in France won a stay of execution. When
the book became a bestseller in 1949, The New York
Times refused to include it on its list because
of the book's religious nature. Today its hardcover and
paperback copies rank in the millions, ranking it one
of the most acclaimed religious books published in the
20th century, despite one disgruntled, if not obsessive-compulsive,
Judy Blume, Wagner and T. S. Eliot
The other case involves a national
religious organization that had promoted my work and
book for a decade. Then one day they noticed that the
Treasury at the back of The Read-Aloud Handbook included
a recommendation for Judy Blume'sTales
of a Fourth-Grade Nothing and its sequels. Soon
came a phone call from their headquarters, noting that
a national rebroadcast of my interview was due to be
scheduled but one thing was holding it up: the Judy Blume
"What do you find objectionable
about Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing?" I
asked, knowing fully well where their angst lay.
man replied, "it's Judy Blume's other books
that we find offensive," meaning her more sexually
oriented books for young adults.
that if I caved in, it would be just a matter of
time before they were back . . .
"I'm aware of
those, but this book I recommend is for very young children.
I don't even mention her other books, which would be
inappropriate for reading aloud anyway," I said.
"Yes, but if
they get started with her books as youngsters, they'll
start to read the others when they get older," he
understand your concerns, but Judy Blume has been around
for 30 years. Has your organization ever done any research
connecting the reading of her young adult books in a
given community with the teenage pregnancy rate in that
community? If there's a connection between reading those
books and subsequent lascivious behavior, it would show
up in 30 years. Any research?" Of course, the answer
"As far as banning
all her work because one objects to some," I continued, "would
that also apply to Ricvhard Wagner or T. S. Eliot—both being anti-Semites? Can't we separate
Wagner's music and Eliot's poetry from their politics?"
n the end, the suggestion
was made by my caller that unless I removed any and all
Judy Blume books from my list, there would be no rebroadcast
of the interview. The opportunity to overrule the censor
(to say nothing of pushing the camel's nose out of my
book/tent) was more important to me than selling some
books, so Blume stayed on my list. (To my astonishment,
the organization was back a few years later, oblivious
to the earlier threats, wishing to rebroadcast the interview.
I reminded them of the previous confrontation and refused
to renew the relationship.)
I knew that if I
had caved in, it would be just a matter of time before
they were back—this time to remove all of Shel
Silverstein's books because he once worked for Playboy;
then the novel Mandy by Julie Andrews
Edwards would have to go because the author/actress
once bared her chest in an R-rated movie; and then Johnny
on the Spot by Edward Sorel would
have to go because of the illustrator's fiercely liberal
editorial cartoons in the "leftist" media.
The nose in the tent would be just the beginning.
Now, you may ask,
what's the name of the organization? If I named them,
I'd be guilty of the same errors they are. Just because
they did one stupid thing and exceeded their boundaries,
doesn't mean everything the organization does
is wrong. In fact, they do much good. They, like the
monk-censor, just get a little carried away with their
power and influence. By naming them, it would be too
easy to paint their entire organization with a broad
brush and that I refuse to do. Nonetheless, they serve
as a potent reminder of the need to remain on guard against
those whose fierce sense of self righteousness would
obliterate the personal freedoms of others.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear — do
you see a Marxist? Oooops.
FORT WORTH, Texas — What do the authors of the
children's book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What
Do You See?" and a 2008 book called "Ethical
Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation" have
Both are named Bill
Martin and, for now, neither is
being added to Texas schoolbooks. In their haste to
sort out the state's social studies curriculum standards
last week, the State Board of
Education tossed children's
author Martin, who died in 2004, from a proposal for
the third-grade section. Board member Pat Hardy,
who made the motion, cited books he had written for
adults that contain "very
strong critiques of capitalism and the American system."
Trouble is, the Bill
Martin Jr. who wrote the "Brown
Bear" series never wrote anything political, unless
you count a book that taught kids how to say the Pledge
of Allegiance, his friends said this week. The book
on Marxism was written by Bill Martin, a philosophy
professor at DePaul University in Chicago. Bill Martin
Jr.'s name would have been included on a list with
author Laura Ingalls Wilder and artist Carmen Lomas
Garza as examples of individuals who would be studied
for their cultural contributions.
Confusion bars children's author from curriculum
Hardy said she was trusting
the research of another board member, Terri Leo,
when she made her motion and comments about Martin's
writing. Leo had sent her an e-mail earlier in the
week, alerting her to Bill Martin Jr.'s listing on
the Borders.com Web site as the author of "Ethical Marxism." Leo's
note, however, also said she hadn't read the book.
"She said that that was what he wrote, and I
said: 'Fine with me. It's a good enough reason for
me to get rid of someone,'" said Hardy, who has
complained vehemently about the volume of names being
added to the curriculum standards.
In an e-mail exchange, Leo said she planned to make
a motion to replace Bill Martin and sent Hardy a list
of possible alternatives. Hardy said she thought she
was doing what Leo wanted when she made the motion.
Leo, however, said she wasn't asking Hardy to make
any motions. She said she didn't do any "research."
"Since I didn't check it out, I wasn't about to
make the motion," Leo said, adding that she never
meant for her "FYI" e-mail to Hardy to be
spoken about in a public forum. Hardy said that her
interest was in paring down that list and that she
didn't mean to offend anyone.
For some, however, the mix-up is an indicator of a
larger problem with the way the elected board members
have approached the update of state curriculum standards,
also known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.
Board members will take up social studies standards
again in March. They plan to take a final vote on updates
Hardy's motion is "a new low in terms of the
group that's supposed to represent education having
such faulty research and making such a false leap without
substantiating what they're doing," said Michael
Sampson, Martin's co-author on 30 children's books.
Sampson is a professor of early childhood education
at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg,
Fla., but he used to work in Texas. He and Martin also
traveled the country putting on educational conferences
for teachers and children.
The social studies standards update, which started
last spring when groups of educators met to suggest
revisions, has brought criticism from the right and
the left about politicizing the process. As trustees
worked their way through a draft last week, political
ideas like imperialism, communism and free enterprise
were at the heart of some of the changes. For example,
member Don McLeroy, the board's conservative former
chairman, suggested taking out mention of the first
Red Scare, an anti-communism movement after World War
I. He argued that it was short-lived, but Hardy appealed
to him to realize the importance of the event, and
it was kept in.
Hardy, who represents part of Tarrant County and Ellis,
Johnson and Parker counties, clashed with her Republican
colleagues in several areas. But she said she had never
heard of Bill Martin Jr.'s work before receiving an
e-mail from Leo. A quick look on the Internet might
add to the confusion. The online bookseller Amazon.com
links the names of the authors. However, a quick scroll
down on the Ethical Marxism page on Amazon gives a
brief description of the
That Bill Martin was surprised
to hear that his name had come up at the meeting
in Austin. "My own
books don't seem to get out there in the world nearly
as much as I'd like, so it is amusing that a trustee
involved in this discussion in the Texas State Board
of Education would even be aware of them," he
said in an e-mail. "But I imagine this trustee
applied the same level of care in her inquiry on this
question as she brings to the idea that young people
cannot be exposed to criticisms of the capitalist system.
So, a fine example for our youth," he wrote.
Tommy Thomason, director of
the Texas Center for Community Journalism at Texas
Christian University, also wasn't pleased. He read
about Hardy's discussion in the Star-Telegram and
contacted the paper for clarification. He also worked
with Martin and considers it a tragedy his friend's
name is being "besmirched." He said Martin's
only political agenda would be "supporting children
and giving them wonderful literature they love to read."
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