Editorials

A good compromise by Richland schools

The Richland School Board came up with a one-word solution to complaints about the content of some of the books used in English Literature classes.

No, it wasn't censorship.

It was pragmatism.

It's a word often mentioned but seldom practiced in public disputes.

Good for Richland schools for reviving it.

Some parents complained about what they considered objectionable material for students in some books.

One book mentioned was "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer, a fictional account of the emotional fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Smut," one parent called it. Others said some of the books on the literature list included profanity, sex or violence.

Give the parents credit. Some of them -- maybe all -- actually read the books they complained about.

The board agreed that schools will continue to provide reading lists to parents, but they'll add a warning that books included in the selection contain material some might find objectionable.

It's a sensible solution.

It puts the responsibility where it belongs: On the parents.

Teachers cannot reasonably be expected to know everything about every student in the classroom and also the tastes and limits of all their family members.

Parents have a right to be informed and to make choices for their children, but not to dictate what's available to others.

Censorship has an ignoble history. At its extreme it includes the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s. Some would include the burning of the library at Alexandria. Some say followers of Islam did it. Other say the Crusaders did it. Others say it was an accident.

Nobody really knows. But the greatest connection to some of the oldest knowledge on Earth was lost forever.

Then there was Dr. Thomas Bowdler of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, who edited Shakespeare down. Bowdler eliminated words and ideas (such as the possibility that Ophelia committed suicide in "Hamlet" and changing, "Out, out damned spot," in "Macbeth" to, "Out, out crimson spot,") so the Bard could be read by, or to, women and children of the day.

This gutting of literature has come to be called bowdlerizing.

That isn't censorship, of course. Censorship is a function of government, not private parties.

In this country we have a law against it -- the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Schools still have to decide what's appropriate reading material, and some badly bungle the responsibility. Particularly backward districts have banned some of the finest works in English to avoid parent protests.

Richland educators showed themselves to be smarter than that. They found a compromise.

It is not perfection of course, but the revised policy gives parents the tools they need to make choices without denying access to more robust curricula for those who want it.

Very practical. Good job, Richland School Board.

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