Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Purifying Merriam-Webster


I guess it is a sign that the economy must be getting better because people are now focusing on other such important issues as what words are in the dictionary.

This morning I read about a school district in California that has pulled all copies of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary from its shelves and formed a committee to study all entries in the reference book to determine if it has "age-inappropriate" words.

They'd better have a large committee. One report I read said that there are over 147,000 entries in that dictionary. That's a lot of scrutinizing. I hope someone brings them pizza and soft drinks to keep them fortified.

Apparently this all started when a student stumbled across the entry for "oral sex" that had the explicit definition. His parents were horrified that his young, tender eyes saw that definition and demanded that the school board do something. Some families are supporting the school's actions and say it's up to the district to do everything it can to shield children from explicit language.

Okay, how many of you did not EVER go to the reference section of the library to see what kind of titillating words you might find? Or how about those issues of National Geographic that showed half-naked people?

Let me see your hands..... I thought so.

Seeking out that kind of material was a natural rite of passage for children, along with playing "doctor" and all the other inquisitive things we did. Would we get in trouble if our parents caught us? Absolutely. Did it harm our little psyches? I don't think so. At least not for most of us.

Did our parents rush to ban the National Geographic from the library? Of course not. How absurd.

8 comments:

LuAnn said...

It's a dictionary, for gosh sakes. Plus, it's the dictionary that has been the standard for many groups for many years ... such as the newspaper industry! Let's see; would I rather have my child look up a definition in a dictionary or ask their friend what it means? Hmmm. They certainly aren't going to ask their mother what "oral sex" means, are they? Or how about looking it up on the Internet? I can just imagine what sites that Google will turn up!

Being Beth said...

This only makes sense if the upset parents has turned over the education of the child to the school district. As a parent, I have always assumed it was my responsibility to educate my children -- from history to math, science to literature, arts to economics, and from religion to sex.

When a parent discovers their child has looked up oral sex in the dictionary, it's time for a talk with the child, time for a lesson on human sexuality -- not a red alert call to the school board to force them to ban the dictionary. What a waste of resources (human and monetary) when all that's needed is basic parenting 101.

Out of curiosity, I looked up oral sex in my 1973 edition college dictionary. Not surprisingly, it was not listed. I then entered oral sex in my computer dictionary --voila, there it was, and a pretty straight forward definition and one that would not upset me in the least if my child looked it up.

Being Beth said...

I just had to add something -- that poor kid! What started out as normal curiosity has not only been made public in his school. school district, and city, it's been broadcast worldwide. Can you imagine the teasing he'll have to endure from his peers? Now THAT would cause damage to the psyche.

Maryann Miller said...

Thanks for the comments. You are so right,Beth. Parent's don't stop to think what their reactions and actions will do to a child. If the parents had just used this as a teaching moment, there would be no fuss over it.

Helen Ginger said...

This does go way over sensibility. It makes no sense.

Helen
Straight From Hel

Clint said...

Utterly ridiculous. Not only is the appointed task just about impossible (given the size of the dictionary and the differing opinions on what constitutes "age appropriateness"), it also brings up the idea of censorship of a tool that has helped educate people virtually since when words were first put on paper. What are they going to do...ban the dictionary because it has some words in it that some may find offensive? Please.

It's also a big waste of time and money.

Finally, I know that parenting is an incredibly difficult job. I know that most parents are overtired and overworked. Still, I believe that when a couple has a child they have agreed (implicitly or explicitly) to take the responsibility for helping that child become the best person they can become. Part of that includes being involved in a child's education as much as possible. That education doesn't always take place in a classroom. In fact, I've found that most of the important stuff I've learned in life was not taught in a classroom.

If a parent is concerned about what their child is learning, whether in a classroom or in life, then it's time to have a talk with the child. Having such a talk doesn't necessarily mean that the child has done something bad. I think it's a form of love that a parent can show their child by helping to answer their questions, educate them, and raise them to be good adults down the road.

Being involved in a child's education certainly requires more work and more parental involvement than leaving the child's education almost entirely to their teachers, but I believe that it's the right thing to do in the end. Not only that, it may even help to strengthen the relationship between parent and child.

Maryann Miller said...

You make some excellent points, Clint. So glad you joined in the discussion.

Matt said...

So if they are going to go through an entire dictionary then they better start going through every other reference book, all major internet search engines and (if they are still using computers in any way after banning all search engines) every help file of every piece of software that they use.

Oh what am I saying, let's just go get some of those old slate boards and some chalk and the teacher can just tell them what to write down and that is all they get to learn.