Park Your Brains at the Door

Public schools of America, beware! Education is "under siege" by a vast conspiracy of censorship?spearheaded by religious fanatics. At least, that's how a recent report tells it. The report is an annual project of People for the American Way (PAW), an ultra-liberal organization that styles itself as a civil liberties watchdog group. But the report invites the suspicion that the group is much less concerned about civil liberties than about banishing Christian values from the public arena. According to PAW, 347 times last year parents actually had the temerity to question what their children were reading in school. Most of the concerns focused on books containing high levels of profanity, violence, or occult phenomena. For example, many of the parents objected to a series of scary story books by Alvin Schwartz that had gruesome plots. One story, called "Wonderful Sausage," tells of a jolly butcher who grinds up his wife into bratwurst and eats her. Not surprisingly parents were a bit upset. Another story, called "Just Delicious," features a woman who goes to a mortuary, steals another woman's liver, and feeds it to her husband. Many parents objected to Lois Duncan's Killing Mr. Griffin, a book about students who kidnap and murder their teacher. Odd that teachers defend the right of students to read that one. PAW lists these examples with a great deal of hand-wringing, decrying them as censorship by fundamentalist, arch-conservative Christian groups. But ironically, the charges are proven false by the details of the report itself. Only about a fifth of the complaints could be traced to conservative groups. Most came from individual parents or teachers. Several of the complaints even came from liberal groups. Black parents objected to racist attitudes in Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Native American groups objected to Laura Ingall Wilder's classic Little House on the Prairie for the way it depicts American Indians. Yet, somehow almost no news accounts picked up these examples. Most portrayed the PAW report as evidence of a frightening wave of censorship from the religious right. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the report is the underlying assumption that any parent who wants input into his own child's education is automatically a censor. Don't forget that by the time educational materials reach your child's classroom, they have already been "censored": They have passed through an intensive selection process carried out at several levels by educators, librarians, and other professionals. Why is it okay for professionals to review school materials but not the child's own parents? Teachers and administrators often urge parents to get more involved in school. But it seems all they really want is parents who will run bake sales and raise money for band uniforms. Schools are often highly suspicious of parents who express any moral or intellectual views about what their children are learning. If schools really want parents to get involved, they need to stop accusing concerned parents of being censors. They need to listen to parents' ideas?and stop telling them to park their brains at the schoolhouse door.


Chuck Colson


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