Throwing the dictionary out of school

Too often supposed moral outrage deprives both individuals and government bodies of common sense. The latest case in point? First, a California school district removed a dictionary from all all school shelves after a parent complained about a student finding a definition of “oral sex” in it. Now, the Menifee Union School District is forming a committee to review whether dictionaries containing the definitions for sexual terms should be permanently banned from the district’s classrooms.

The dictionaries at issue, the Merriam-Webster’s 10th edition, are used as reference works in fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms and the concern is whether they are “age-appropriate.” The dictionary is college level but was purchased for the classrooms because there are students who read significantly above their grade levels.

So what is the definition that got one (repeat, one) parent so hot and bothered?

Main Entry: oral sex

Function: noun

Date: 1973

: oral stimulation of the genital

Given how racy that definition is, the school district should also consider banning computers. After all, the online definition adds the words and has links to the definitions of “cunnilingus” and “fellatio.” And teachers better not ask any of these kids to learn about or do a paper on Bill Clinton or else the schools will need to consider banning newspapers, magazines and encyclopedias.

No doubt there’s plenty of other “objectionable” words in this and other dictionaries in the school, such as prostitute, intercourse, penis or masturbation. Does that justify removing or editing all the dictionaries, even the ones in the libraries? Since when does hiding words mean the acts they describe don’t occur or that kids don’t learn about them?

I do have one suggestion. While the school district looks for those objectionable words, there’s a few others it may want to look up, such as ignorance, overreaction, irrational and asinine.

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.

Ray Bradbury, “Coda,” Fahrenheit 451

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