The Push for Knowledge-Free Zones


September 16, 1991|By KEITH A. OWENS

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA — Fort Lauderdale, Florida. -- The power of an informed mind can be frightening, especially to those who have chosen to live their lives in knowledge-free zones -- and insist the rest of us rot there as well.

People for the American Way, in its ninth annual report on censorship in public schools, entitled ''Attacks on the Freedom to Learn,'' documents 229 cases of attempted censorship state-by-state. This figure represents the highest number of incidents in the history of the report, a 33 percent increase over last year.

Except for ''More Fun with Dick and Jane,'' just about everything is under attack as being too corrupt for young minds.

Among the guilty books: ''Catcher in the Rye,'' ''My Friend Flicka,'' ''Little Red Riding Hood,'' ''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,'' ''Tom Sawyer,'' ''Where the Wild Things Are,'' ''Of Mice and Men,'' ''Native Son,'' ''The Grapes of Wrath'' and Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary.

That's right, the dictionary. Must have been a few words in there the fearful folks couldn't figure out -- or read with fear.

Unfortunately, there is nowhere to hide. The study documents cases of censorship in 44 states. The Western states displayed the most eagerness to castrate the thought process, with 85 incidents of censorship, but every region had dozens. California reported 36 incidents of censorship, followed by Michigan with 17, Illinois with 15 and Texas with 13.

In Clay County, Florida, parents objected to ''My Friend Flicka'' for saying ''damn'' twice and ''bitch'' once. ''Abel's Island'' was unacceptable because the frog in the story is drinking alcohol. As for ''Little Red Riding Hood,'' it's a sweet story, but Little Red is carrying wine in her basket for grandma. Sorry, Red. Next time, try Perrier.

Says the report: ''Teachers are usually willing to provide alternative reading assignments to students whose parents request them, and many take the added precaution of notifying parents before they study materials that might prove controversial. Unfortunately, as this report reveals, in many cases the request made by the complainant was not simply for some modification of that individual child's program or assignment. Rather, it was a demand that the material in question be denied to all students.''

Even more disturbing is that, out of all the recorded attempts at censorship, one-third were successful to some degree ''either in removing materials from the curriculum or the school, or in limiting access to materials through the use of restricted shelves in libraries or similar means.''

In other words, the stupid people are winning.

If Paul Revere were to ride his horse through the streets of this country today, he wouldn't be worried about the British. The towering influence of itty-bitty minds would have that poor man yelling out a new warning: ''The idiots are coming, the idiots are coming!''

Unless we decide to take charge of our own minds, we need only look in the mirror to see where all those idiots are coming from.

Keith A. Owens is a columnist for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

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