We’re banning the dictionary now?

I’ve just arrived at the office, and I should be working. But I’m not. I’m too angry about an article I read on the way here (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving, so no, I wasn’t the idiot creeping into  your lane with the Blackberry above the steering wheel).

This is what I read: “Dictionary banned from school classroom.

The dictionary – the much-respected Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate version – was pulled from classrooms after a parent at Oak Meadows Elementary School complained. This was because a child had found the definition of “oral sex” in the book (I’d guess it’s there along with a lot of other “bad” words).

What really bothers me is not just that this ignorant slime who wants to take a reference tool as basic as the dictionary away (though that really is enough to ignite a rage), it’s that the reaction is “mixed.”

…parent reaction has been mixed, with some parents in favour, saying that the books shouldn’t be in use for young children (aged 9/10).

Really? What age, then, is appropriate for children (or adults, maybe?) to learn to independently answer a question about something they don’t know?

I’ll grant that 9/10 years old is a little young to be performing oral sex. But it’s not too young to be curious about something they heard somewhere. So what does Webster’s say when you look that up?

oral stimulation of the genitals : cunnilingus, fellatio

I can’t speak for every 10-year-old out there, but when I was that age, that wouldn’t have helped me one bit. Even so, there’s nothing “dirty” about it. It’s a very clinical, sterile definition.  I looked that up online, but I’d be willing to bet that a hard copy of the dictionary doesn’t have any visual demonstrations that weren’t included in the free online version.

But none of that matters. Because the kid who looked this up, and apparently disclosed it to his or her parent, should have a parent who asked questions like, “what prompted you to look that up?” “what do you think about what you learned?” “do you have any questions?” There needs to be a communication with the kid, an age-appropriate conversation, and an assessment of how to respond to the child on an individual basis.

The solution to what must surely be an uncomfortable position for the parent is NOT a knee-jerk reaction to take a highly valuable reference tool away from every kid in a school because one kid stumbled across this phrase one way or another.

I’m sorry, parents, but there are things in this world that curious kids won’t be sheltered from forever. It is human nature to want to explore things not only that we don’t understand, but what we understand to be forbidden. You do not get to hold your child in some sort of informational stasis until you’re ready to tell them about the things you believe to be ugliest in the world. It will be a rare occasion when that actually works.

Believe me, the dictionary is not the source of this parent’s perceived problem here. And here’s a news flash: in the absence of a dictionary, kids will find other ways to answer their questions. And most of them probably will have visual aids.

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1 Comment

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