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Feb. 2 2010 - 10:29 am | 137 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Banned books! Anne Frank and the dictionary

Anne Frank

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I remember reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” for the first time as a young girl and being drawn in by the intimacy of Anne’s words, the sharpness of her observations, the universality of her feelings, all, of course overshadowed by the horror of what happened to her after she wrote her last sentence. It was a seminal experience, as I’m sure it was for many a budding adolescent.

But kids in Virginia’s Culpeper Country School District won’t be sharing that experience — at least not in school. The district pulled the definitive edition from its shelves after a parent complained about the content. And what, pray tell, did this watchdog find so objectionable? The shadow of the death camps hovering over the book? Nope. A passage about the vagina.

That’s right. The parent, who dutifully “got involved” in the students’ work, deemed the “sexual nature” of the passage inappropriate for impressionable minds. The book will no longer be assigned to eighth grade classes.

The offensive passage?

There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can’t imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!

This decision is so mind-numbingly stupid it’s hard to even fathom what these folks were thinking. The “Diary” is one of the most widely read Holocaust memoirs, and its chatty, quotidian prose humanizes the victims in a way that provides an excellent way for teachers to discuss the larger issues surrounding the story. It’s just unthinkable that one parent — who, of course, is not identified in the news reports — can take that experience away from the rest of the students.

Banning books is nothing new in schools, and it’s always short-sighted. (Tip of the hat to  J.D. Salinger, R.I.P.) But Anne Frank? This borders on criminal.

There must be something in the water, because a school district in California recently banned – cover your eyes if you are sensitive — the dictionary. That’s right. It seems that Merriam Webster’s 10th edition is too racy for the students in the Menifee Union School District. Another vigilant parent discovered that a student had learned the definition of “oral sex” in the dictionary, and horrified censors school officials pulled the book from classrooms. Sanity prevailed after an uproar, and the reference book was put back on the shelves. Parents can opt out of having their kids use that particular dictionary.

All I can say is that I hope those who opt out don’t complain when their kids misspell words or use words like “neurotic” or “overprotective” in the wrong context.


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    About Me

    I spent a good chunk of my adult life as an arts reporter/critic/columnist for the Boston Globe. Among other things, I covered the cultural wars of the early 1990s (remember Mapplethorpe?), reviewed theater, and profiled all sorts of interesting characters. I also wrote an early column about online culture, which led me to become one of the first online war correspondents during the conflict in Kosovo, an odd but exhilarating gig for an arts maven. While I was a fellow in the National Arts Journalism program, a colleague handed me a gloomy article called “Print is Dead.” I eventually got the message and took a buyout from the Globe in 2001. I had vague dreams of saving the world, but instead had three kids in 17 months. Therein lies my newfound interest in public education. I am hoping to create a dialogue about what’s wrong, what’s right, and what’s up in our schools today.

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    Here’s a piece on new ideas in education, in the Boston Globe Magazine.