Thursday, May 12, 2005

Invitations, Honoraria, and Censorship

The Monticello, Minnesota school district is in hot water over a decision to cancel a speech by children's author Lisa Westberg Peters. Peters could have made her speech and retained her $1,000 to $1,500 honorarium if she had agreed not to discuss Our Family Tree, which is her evolution book for kids.

Is the money still available? I'm willing to give a speech and not talk about evolution. What time should I be there? But seriously, this case is different than the various controversies over evolution in the science curriculum. Peters' talk was supposed to help kids "learn how to write." One of the rationales for excluding competing ideas in the biology curriculum is that the religious-based explanations might be appropriate in a literature, philosophy, or comparative religion class, but not in a science class. The proposed speech was not part of the science curriculum and was to be presented by an outside speaker. A school district is opening up a can of worms if it decides to invite discussion of evolution outside the context of biology class.

Of course, the American Library Association is crying censorship. Here is what I wrote last year celebrating the ALA's Banned Books Week:

A close examination of what qualifies as "banned" or "challenged" reveals that the ALA does not want any interference with its choices for acquisitions or curriculum. To them, any complaint about accuracy or age-appropriateness is the equivalent of a book burning.

The Library of Congress is the most comprehensive collection of books that are published in the United States. Every other American library's collection will be a smaller subset of this. Each library must choose which volumes to acquire and shelve. When a librarian makes that choice, it is deemed to be based on quality or pedagogical criteria. When a taxpayer or parent questions that choice, it is deemed to be narrow-minded censorship.

The arrogance is compounded when discussing school curriculum. In choosing a certain book for a certain class in a certain grade, it is necessary to whittle down the millions of books in the Library of Congress to a mere handful. Then students must attend classes, under penalty of truancy, and read the assigned books. Is it wrong for parents and taxpayers in a free society to involve themselves in the choice of books? Should we limit the discussion to those people with degrees in teaching or library science?

Government employees who seek to squelch citizen dissent should be careful when they throw around terms like "censorship."


Anonymous Ettore Infante said...

That's why we have a social and cultural elite as represented by our finest minds, especially at the larger state-funded universities. The simple masses are not intelligent or capable enough to know what is best for them, so we have a higher class of men and women to decide for them.

May 12, 2005 2:53 PM  

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