Not From The Onion

by on January 26, 2010 at 2:08 pm in Education | Permalink

The 9,000-student K-8 district this week pulled all copies of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary after an Oak Meadows Elementary School parent complained about a child stumbling across definitions for "oral sex."

The decision was made without consultation with the district's school board and has raised concerns among First Amendment experts and some parents.

Other parents and Menifee residents, though, have praised the district's decision, saying a collegiate-level dictionary is inappropriate for younger children.

Words fail me and now apparently also the students in Menifee.

1 Noah January 26, 2010 at 2:18 pm


2 stpeter January 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I’m sure it would have made all the difference if had been a K-9 district…

3 Bill January 26, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Makes you wonder if the parent was looking for the definition and not the child.

Will probably result in more kids looking it up.

What are these Christians going to do when their bible reading kids look up sodomy, a word that appears in the bible? I’ve got an idea–LET’s BAN THE BIBLE!

4 Andrew January 26, 2010 at 2:39 pm

That sucks.

5 Loren January 26, 2010 at 2:43 pm

What do you expect from cunning linguists?

6 8 January 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm

The problem here isn’t the dictionary. It’s that one of the children who can read the dictionary told the rest of the class what it said.

7 BKarn January 26, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I always find it interesting that people leap to the idea that this must be related to Christianity and conservativism. While that may be the case here (I don’t see a reference to religion), having spent a lot of time in decidedly liberal communities it’s been my experience that it’s hard to top the filtering and hypersensitivity over what “the children” see and do there. I’m sure it’s easy to pretend that this sort of thing is limited to the conservative population, but that seems like a remarkably blindered mindset for a group of people interested in economics.

Wouldn’t it be at least as instructive here to examine what compelled the school district to react this way in response to the complaints of a handful of parents?

8 Colorado January 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm

I heard there was a short lived demonstration at the school board meeting when some parents started chanting,
What do we want?
When do we want it?
Later, American Idol is on now.

9 zz January 26, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I live in one of the most liberal areas of the US, and for all the talk of multiculturalism, the sensitivity here to children’s exposure to religion or racial insensitivity is just as bad as the sensitivity to sex in more conservative areas. After all, we just had the name of a a classic Joseph Conrad book published as “The N-Word of Narcissus” to appease the same “concerned” parents of high school children.

10 Paul Johnson January 26, 2010 at 3:41 pm

What school district wants to deal with a lawsuit? Cheaper to take the book away. Incentives matter.

11 Rahul January 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Homeschooling seems an incredibly inappropriate response:

Just to overcome stupid administrators and some censorship you will deprive the kid of the whole gamut of social exposure and development?

12 babar January 26, 2010 at 3:52 pm

if this is surprising, you need to reset your expectations.

oh wait, that’s tyler’s meme.

13 Matt January 26, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Worse than sodomy, the Bible itself contains stories of people committing genocide (the Book of Joshua) and infanticide (Abraham and Isaac), among other atrocities, all in the name of God. Oral sex is pretty harmless by comparison, so hopefully the motive for this censorship was not a Christian one…

14 Todd Fletcher January 26, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Reminds me of a supposed conversation between Samuel Johnson and a society lady:

Lady: Thank you Samuel for keeping foul and vulgar words out of your dictionary.

Johnson: Ah, so you looked for them?

15 rob January 26, 2010 at 5:43 pm

children do the damndest things.

the funny thing is: isnt this all about the embarrassment of the adults in hearing about oral sex? it isnt about protecting children from adults, it is about protecting adults from children.

16 Doug January 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I can’t believe I live on the same planet as people like this.

17 tomslee January 26, 2010 at 6:26 pm

“stumbling across definitions for ‘oral sex.'”

Stumbling across? Suuuuure.

18 Andrew January 26, 2010 at 7:20 pm

They could just glue all the most offensive pages together instead of jerking them off the shelves.

19 Yancey Ward January 26, 2010 at 8:11 pm

And, now, MarginalRevolution is now blocked in Menifee County, CA school district.

20 Ricardo January 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm

John Stuart Mill according to Wikipedia: “This intensive study however had injurious effects on Mill’s mental health, and state of mind. At the age of twenty he suffered a nervous breakdown. As explained in chapter V of his Autobiography, this was caused by the great physical and mental arduousness of his studies which had suppressed any feelings he might have developed normally in childhood.”

21 Wevin January 27, 2010 at 2:00 am

“Sure, we’re too old to change the world. What about that kid, sitting down, opening a book right now in a branch of the local library and finding pictures of pee-pees and wee-wees in The Cat in the Hat and The Five Chinese Brothers. Doesn’t he deserve better?”

— Lt. Bookman in episode, “The Library” Seinfeld

22 Bertrand Russell January 27, 2010 at 2:26 am

There is no excuse for deceiving children. And when, as must happen in conventional families, they find that their parents have lied, they lose confidence in them, and feel justified in lying to them. There are facts which I should not obtrude upon a child, but I would tell him anything sooner than say what is not true. Virtue which is based upon a false view of the facts is not real virtue. Speaking not only from theory, but from practical experience, I am convinced that complete openness on sexual subjects is the best way to prevent children from thinking about them excessively, nastily, or unwholesomely, and also the almost indispensable preliminary to an enlightened sexual morality.

23 Miles S January 27, 2010 at 7:47 am

Kids have been looking up dirty words in the dictionary since the stone age. It is a right of passage! Take that away, and you take away our souls.

24 anon January 27, 2010 at 9:49 am

Ah, Bertrand Russell, the original fish on a bicycle (from Wikipedia):
“He soon fell in love with the puritanical, high-minded Alys, who was a graduate of Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, and, contrary to his grandmother’s wishes, he married her on 13 December 1894. Their marriage began to fall apart in 1901 when it occurred to Russell, while he was out on his bicycle, that he no longer loved her.”

Kids have been looking up dirty words in the dictionary since the stone age.

There were dictionaries with dirty words in them in the Stone Age? Who knew! Those must have been rock hard.

25 642-661 January 27, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Daniel Klein, Jason Briggeman, and Kevin Rollins have designed a questionnaire about the economic rationale for the policy that makes new drugs and devices banned until individually permitted by the FDA. Klein and Briggeman present the questionnaire and the list of

26 January 28, 2010 at 6:01 am

These are the same parents who provide no sex education and are shocked when one of their kids becomes pregnant.

27 V January 28, 2010 at 7:54 am

@rluser – Right on!

Regardless of all the academic theorising you have to draw the line somewhere. Functionally this is a school dictionary and I hardly think it also needs to be the number one reference for sexual descriptions at the same time. Parents are still free to provide the appropriate literature if they so choose.
Otherwise why not provide the K-8’s a 1,000,000 page compendium of every word ever known to man. Least we create a stir by omitting something.

Doesn’t this also raise other issues? Such as this:

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