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Feature photo: theogeo/Photo above: Pop!Tech
Looking up dirty words and naughty images as a child is like a rite of passage into adulthood. But after one parent complained about their child discovering the definition for “oral sex,” schools in southern California started to consider removing the dictionary from classrooms.

The news of the possible “ban” on the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition spread internationally and caused some outraged feedback from parents, as many felt the dictionary was not the problem. As one parent pointed out:

“That is not the worst word in the dictionary. Kids are going to be exposed to things, and it is the parents’ job to explain it to them, not the teachers’ or the school district’s (job).”

This argument is nothing new. In some places, other banned books include: Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, for its display of disrespect towards adults; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for its use of the ‘n’ word; and even J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series for its use of witchcraft.

Those are just a few. Is it just me, or do the themes of friendship, youthful determination and overcoming oppression completely override any negative aspects of these books?

Some teens, however, do realize the importance of reading whatever the hell you want to read.

For example, take the girl who kept a lending library of banned books inside her locker. She encouraged students to borrow from the 62 banned books inside her locker, with everything from The Perks of Being a Wallflower to Animal Farm. The makeshift library provided students with a way to read these classics without the risk of getting in trouble with parents.

Give the girl a freaking medal.

In the end, students in southern California were given the option of using an alternative dictionary to the one temporarily removed, but are still able to use the old. Next assignment: an essay on the definition of “ignorance” and how to prevent it.

Community Connection

What do you think, is it justified to ban certain books? The dictionary?



About The Author

Candice Walsh

Candice Walsh is a Professional Experience Collector and full-time writer, blogger, and inventor of job titles that don't make much sense. She's based out of St. John's, Newfoundland. Follow her website for more shenanigans.

  • Sabina

    Book banning has now extended to the dictionary? Perhaps we should just ban all books, period, just to be 100 percent safe.

  • Kevin Post

    Well written article Candice, but reading about church book burnings, banning books that go against the statu quo, people freaking out because a science book doesn’t mention Creationism, etc makes my blood boil.

    Agreed, give that girl a freaking medal!

    By the way, I never knew that Animal Farm was banned, I read it in my 9th grade English class.

    Take care.

  • Candice Walsh

    Seriously, Sabina! Banning any kind of literature unless it’s hate propaganda is absurd in my mind.

    Thanks Kevin! I guess some of those are banned only in certain locations, I read Huck Finn in high school. We actually took turns reading the book aloud and I don’t remember how we dealt with the ‘n’ word.

  • Abbie

    My guess is that the school districts’ would rather just eliminate the dictionary “in question” because they wouldn’t be able to afford to fight the battle in court. Arnold is destroying education in California with his budget cuts…

  • Rebecca

    great topic candice! when i was growing up we had a family bookcase with a few “top shelf ” books..haha.. mostly health and sex books..nothing that a chair & a few curious siblings couldn’t overcome and we climbed up the bookcase to get them!! it’s definitely a rite of passage & banning a dictionary is outrageous!

    ps: your article title titles are becoming more & more risque, so i’ll brace myself for the next one ;)

  • late_stranger

    I know Huck Finn is often banned – it’s on my school’s Dangerous Books (an English elective) reading list. Seriously, though, when I was in seventh grade we had to write a diary from the point of view of a person in the revolution. I pulled ‘Educated slave/ Free Black’ and when I asked the teacher about how to deal with the ‘n’ word she said to just use it. Everyone already knew not to use it in general, and this was twelve year olds.

    Also, yes, give the girl a medal. I would totally do that. Also, call her a saint for both fighting ignorance and fitting SIXTY TWO extra books in her locker. That’s a feat.

  • Turner

    With the exception of hate speech and most things considered inappropriate by 1st amendment standards, nothing should be banned.

  • neha

    The kid used a real dictionary and not the computer, I say give the kid a pat on the back.

    As for the girl with the banned books locker, she is a star! I went through the titles she mentions, and I was a little horrified that Mort and The Witches are in a list of banned books, I mean seriously!

  • Julie

    It’s really hard to even know what to say about this whole fiasco other than this: When will Americans stop being so damn silly and hypocritical? We complain about a dictionary and have no problem with people (women, in particular) being objectified in/by the media and pop culture. Can we all just give one collective eye roll?

  • Susanna

    AUGH! Parents must be brave enough to talk openly with their children, from the get-go, and lay down the law about their family’s values. Then they must trust their children to be staunch individuals and use their good judgment (hopefully cultivated throughout childhood and adolescence, with parents’ help) to decide what they do with the things that happen everywhere in the world. You can’t put your kid in a bubble — you have to teach them how to handle what they encounter. Even in that most dangerous of books … the dictionary.

  • Candice

    Yeah, it’s more than a little infuriating. I feel like if people ban books and make a big deal out of it, wouldn’t that entice kids to read them more anyway? I certainly would…

  • Kathy

    Sabina’s idea of getting rid of all books has been used, already, sorry! In Fahrenheit 451 (just saw the movie not long ago–somewhat hokey but powerful stuff!).

    You would be surprised if you’ve never seen a list of books that have been banned at one time or another. Here’s one the American Library Assn. puts out: . But I don’t think a dictionary is on it. That’s taking what’s already an absurd idea to its absurdist extreme, imho.

    BTW, I’d love to recruit the banned-book-locker-girl to be a librarian–she’s got the main idea!

  • James

    Communication is key … and lack of, creates a void that will fill with something, probably worse than the original item. I first learned what “sexual intercourse” really was by reading a dictionary, then learning more in the encyclopedia. And that was before the web was around.

    If parents don’t want the school to teach it, then they need to get involved and discuss it themselves with their kids. If you don’t tell your kids what your thoughts and feelings and understandings are, their friends will and your kids may get all the wrong information. They are going to find out eventually – it is inevitable, else you live in a cult and locked out of the real world.

    The books should be a source of discussion not banning. Even if only restricted, but allowed by parent permission slip. Then the parents need to discuss it and not restrict it. The more you refuse something without explaination, the more it is desired by the kids. And a little knowledge can be dangerous, or a little exposure can show it is really no big deal.

    Ignornace is only lack of knowledge. Stupidity is having knowledge and not applying it.

  • Alouise

    Wow when will the madness end? Banning the dictionary is probably the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard of. What’s next, other reference books? Are they going to ban encyclopedias and thesauruses? Kids can be curious (I mean I’m sure we all looked up the word sex in grade school and had a giggle with out friends). Eventually they’ll find out about certain words and phrases. At least a dictionary is a pretty harmless way to learn about this. Unless of course this particular dictionary included detailed instructions with bonus tips and pictures or something. But it just seems like a major overreaction from a group of small minded people.

    And that girl with her secret library, she should be commended, given a full scholarship for university or something. I hope she knows that she’s doing something fantastic and noble, she’s giving people the opportunity to see the world from another perspective, she’s opening people’s minds by letting them read books. Years from now she can look back and be proud she had the courage to stand up for what she believed in, not everyone would be so bold. Because as one of my favourite authors Hunter S Thompson once said “Freedom is something that dies unless it is used.”

  • Blue

    some people are retards, banning harry potter for use of witchcraft? Jesus what has our world come to?

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