You've all heard about this thing where a school has pulled the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary from its shelves, pending review, right?
This is ridiculous on so many counts, and I'm glad the school board members are speaking up and wondering where their voice is in this, but in a way this is hitting me more personally than some of the other book challenges and removals that have been publicized lately.
I DEPENDED on the dictionary when I was a kid. I grew up in a very modest kind of family where even the mildest of "bad" words were never heard and children didn't watch R-rated movies--usually even PG-13. To be honest, I liked it that way. My home seemed peaceful compared to many other homes I visited, and I wasn't forced to have embarrassing conversations with my parents.
But I did hear about things sometimes, in books, on TV, in school. Sometimes kids would be amused if I didn't know what something meant. Then it would turn out they didn't REALLY know, either.
I remember reading a children's book about the Salem witch trials; it mentioned that Abigail Williams grew up to be a prostitute. I could tell from context clues that this was something shocking, but I had no idea what it was. It sounded kind of like a lawyer (I knew the word "prosecute"). Maybe it was something that was considered a man's job in those times, like being a lawyer was. I remember innocently asking Laurie "What's a prostitute?".
Dead silence from the bottom bunk. "I think the dictionary could explain it better than I could," she said. And she reached for our paperback dictionary and read the definition aloud. I got the picture, although I had never heard of such a thing. We both continued reading. Embarrassing conversation smartly averted.
After that, I remember turning to the dictionary again whenever I needed to. My friend's sister called her a "lesbian". Those two were always having shouting matches and namecalling was a daily occurrence, but neither of us knew what this meant. Over the telephone, when my friend asked me if I knew, I looked it up in the dictionary. "A female homosexual," I said. Then I looked up "homosexual". We both thought this was a strange word to use as an insult against a ten-year-old girl, but at least we knew what it meant.
I looked up "condom" when I heard it used on the show Head of the Class (the first dictionary I checked, a children's dictionary, had only "condominium"; this was very confusing). And I looked up "oral sex" when I heard kids making jokes about it on the bus.
Why, why, why would people want to keep kids away from information? I can't understand it for a second. Usually I can at least see a smidgen of the other side's view. But it isn't like kids are going to be looking up "oral sex" if they haven't already heard of it. It isn't like the dictionary says something controversial. If a parent's relationship with a kid is such that they think the kid would (and should) come to them with a question about what oral sex is, that conversation isn't going to be derailed by the dictionary definition (for the record: "oral stimulation of the genitals").
"It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature," Cadmus [a district spokesperson] said.
Anyone else have "saved by dictionary" tales?