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• • • Censorship Page Index • • •
  1. Entry page
  2. Religion, Harry Potter, and the Taliban
  3. The Vatican weighs in on Harry Potter
  4. 'Forbidden fruit' concept in censorship
  5. Banning 'Bridge to Terabithia'
  6. Censoring Red Riding Hood's grandma
  7. Censoring Thomas Merton, Judy Blume, — even Bill Martin Jr.
  8. The Great Textbook War
  1. Book-lynching in Indianapolis High School
  2. Saving us from 'Private Ryan'
  3. Censorship and hysteria: McCarthyism, Walter Cronkite, and a smear victim
  4. Picking the censors: William Bennett, Bill O'Reilly, or Murdoch's Fox Network?
  5. Test and textbook censors
  6. Capt. Underpants and Junie B. Jones
  7. When is it 'inappropriate'?

 

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By Jim Trelease
© 2001, 2007 Jim Trelease / updated: 7/11/13

Who will pick the censors?

"T"his might be a good time to mention the irony of how many times the people who elect themselves as censors or the conscience of education turn out to have feet of clay, never mind dirty hands. The epitome of this is former Secretary of Education William Bennett. A self-proclaimed authority on family values and virtues (The Book of Virtues), Bennett set himself up as an authority on what is right for kids and families to read. No problem there.

Bill Bennett

    But then Bennett turned out to have one of the Beltway's healthier gambling habits, losing more than $8 million in Vegas over a decade (including $550,000 in one weekend at the Bellagio). But it wasn't the slot-habit alone that made Bennett a hypocrite. As Frank Rich pointed out in The New York Times (Arts & Leisure, May 18, 2003, "Tupac's Revenge on Bennett"), his track record for double-standards is a lot better than his record for beating the odds on The Strip:

  • When Bennett excoriated Time Warner for its promotion of "gangsta rap," he somehow forgot to mention his own contract with Time Warner's "Book of the Month Club" that netted him six figures.
  • Bennett and Newt Gingrich were among of the loudest critics of public television as a waste of public tax dollars but he later grabbed more than a few of those public dollars when he sold his Book of  Virtues to PBS as a cartoon series.
  • Twenty years after he was happy to win a $970,000 grant for the National Humanities Center in North Carolina when he was its local director, he was joining the conservative chorus in calling for its demise, finally knocking down the fund by one-third.
  •  When he went before Congress to excoriate the various media moguls who allow violence and depravity to flourish in our society, how is it he failed to mention Rupert Murdoch whose Fox network consistently seeks the bottom of the cultural food chain? Yes, Murdoch's team at Fox News backs Bennett's political party all the way. Why bite the hand that feeds thee?

Textbook and test censors

"N"o state takes its personal liberties to the extreme that Texas does, which is always "bigger and better" than anywhere/anyone else. Texas, however, wants to make sure you're not free to write or read what some of its "select" citizens  feel is inappropriate, false, or just plain disagreeable. With that in mind, the state has created the most extreme textbook adoption process in America.

And since it's the largest purchaser of school texts in the U.S., the Longhorn state is the tail that wags the textbook dog. A host of extreme political and religious conservatives have hijacked the Texas process in recent years and their reasonings and strategies are described in "Textbook Publishers Learn: Avoid Messing With Texas," by Alexander Stille (The New York Times, June 29, 2002, p. 1, A19). The article prompted one Texas history professor (University of Dallas) to write the following letter to The Times:

To the Editor:

Readers should not overly fret that students in Texas are being deprived of a full and accurate account of American history.

Under Texas law, all students are required to take two semesters of American history if they attend a state-supported community college, college or university.

Professors have the opportunity to cover and analyze the material that was left out of high school textbooks.

Texas college students usually find it refreshing to read and learn about the history that was kept from them.

— STEPHEN G. RABE
Dallas, June 29, 2002

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The above letter leaves one to conclude that the majority of Texas students, those not attending college, will remain in the land of ignorance when it comes to the issues censored by the Texas Taliban.  

And then there is the 2010 fiasco when the Texas State Board, in trying to winnow down the list of books for their social studies curriculum, yanked the work of beloved children's author Bill Martin Jr. for being pro-Communist? Who said such a thing? Well, someone "heard" that he'd written a Marxist book . . . It turns out they had the wrong "Martin" but not before the author of the "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" series got the boot. (The AP story detailing the events can be found here at Brown Bear.) Poor Texas — they keep writing a curriculum that reads like a script for a sitcom that has "Send in the Clowns" for its theme song.

Ravitch

The impact of groups like the Texas Taliban has been profiled in Dr. Diane Ravitch's acclaimed The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf, 2003). Ravitch is by no means a liberal or progressive, having served as an Assistant Secretary of Education in George H. W. Bush's administration and holds the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution. When The Wall St. Journal reviewed this book, it had this to say:

   "What has magnified the influence of activists is the hopelessly corrupt way that textbooks and tests are produced. Classroom materials have become the almost exclusive domain of mammoth corporations like McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Reed Elsevier and Vivendi, whose prime concern, Ms. Ravitch shows, is not to educate but to avoid controversy. Texts are composed by committees of nonspecialists who go light on words and heavy on graphics and who do everything with an eye to the political vagaries of Texas and California . . ."

—Book review by Gary Rosen
Wall St. Journal, April 22, 2003, p. D8

In contrast to the procedures of the Texas education establishment, the democratic way is to provide open and fair hearings to anyone expressing a concern about the appropriateness of certain literature for children but the hearing board must be balanced and autonomous enough to prevent community bullying or hijacking.

As we've seen throughout history and currently in the Middle and Far East, extremism in pursuit of even religious goals invariably leads us down a one-way street to anarchy from which no one escapes unscathed. Had such hearings been available to black and Jewish groups in the U.S. during the first half of the twentieth century, many racial and cultural injustices could not have been perpetuated and reinforced in the literature of American classrooms and libraries.

BACK     • Censor subject index     • NEXT— Capt. Underpants and Junie B. Jones

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