Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has long been a staple in many an American classroom. But a California school district removed dictionaries from all of its schools last week after a parent complained about a child looking up the phrase “oral sex,” The (Riverside, Calif.) Press-Enterprise reports.
A spokesperson for the 9,000-student Menifee Union School District told the newspaper it was the first time a book had been removed across the district and that the dictionary would be reviewed (perhaps page by page) before a decision is made about whether it can be returned to classrooms after the discovery of the “sexually graphic” entry.
A committee of teachers, parents, and principals will be taking a look at the book soon.
Small schools expert Mike Klonsky has written about the controversy on his blog, asking his readers to help school officials comb through the dictionary and find the offending words.
“The problem for the book-banning officials is, they have to be able to read through the dictionary themselves in order to find more sex-related words,” he writes.
Some parents and school board members called the district’s response an overreaction and censorship, while others said the temporary ban was a reasonable response.
Anyone who’s spent time in school with students of a certain age knows they will often look up “naughty” words, whether sexual or swear words, because they find it amusingly subversive.
What’s the best way to handle this situation? How does your school district deal with instructional materials, whether dictionaries or novels, that contain content some parents may find inappropriate for their children?
UPDATE: Here’s the definition of “oral sex” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. As these things go, it’s rather benign.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.