To many, the excision of all the blue words in a play to be performed by 34 middle-schoolers may seem hardly a crack in the cornerstone of freedom of expression.
But to my mind -- and I'll wager to a whole lot of teachers in this county -- Harford school Superintendent Ray R. Keech's decision last month to wrench the profanity from the play "Jabberwock" is disturbing.
The deletions came after a very small band of parents at North Harford Middle complained about profanity and other elements of the play, which students had chosen to perform.
The upset parents -- three couples -- exercised their freedom of expression by telling school administrators and Keech they wanted the play altered also because (A) it had racist overtones, and (B) a comment by a character in the play was "un-American." (The character remarks that he is relieved not to have been snared for military duty.)
What's particularly grim is that a majority of county school board members backed Keech's decision when they turned down an appeal last week of Keech's excisions. The two North Harford Middle teachers advising the students on the production filed the appeal.
The actions of Keech and the board are alarming, for you have
to wonder if they speak volumes about their own approach to education. Is it "Let there be blinders for our children"?
Mark Twain warned us with characteristic wit of these rogue arts vigilantes when he said that those who know "The Truth" find those that seek it dangerous.
If a few profane words in a satirical play about the trials, tribulations and humor of adolescence can drivethe highest administrator and a school board to censorship, imagine what a piece of literature a little more brave might do.
Keech andthe school board members are men and women who are supposed to be enlightened about the value of literature to the young mind and dedicated to encouraging an open atmosphere of learning.
Literature, eventhough it may include profanity or racial slurs or sexual innuendo, is meant to help us reflect on the deeper meanings and actions of ourown lives.
We learn to be more human and to know what others' experiences of being human are like. They are often different from our own.
The parents and the school administrators fool only themselvesif they think that by deleting profanity from a school play they protect the children from using or hearing profanity in their everyday lives.
I'd wager each member of the school board and Keech that if they searched their memories, they will recall that it was at roughlythe very age our young "Jabberwock" actors and actresses that they began experimenting with the blue words dissected from the play.
Were they corrupted by their use of these words in their youth?
Plays, books, music, films and poetry do not corrupt.
They present us with ideas and images that move us at a deep intellectual and spiritual level that everyday life often cannot reach. And within that experience can come intellectual and spiritual growth.
Yet for some, obviously, this power of literature and art is dangerous.
The parents who demanded "Jabberwock" be altered are of a mind that expressionsof life that do not portray how they choose to live their own lives should be monitored and controlled.
These art vigilantes remind meof the people you see trimming, at a frenetic pace, the wildness of spring bloom on the bush until it looks like a boxy square of lifeless green.
It is in times like these that we are best to remind ourselves that no subject is safe from censorship's clip, clip, clip.
The works of famous and revered American writers from Mark Twain to F. Scott Fitzgerald have been and continue to be banned. Twain's wonderful boyhood tale "Huckleberry Finn" continues to be among the most banned books by public school boards in the United States.
The sweetest black humor in all of this is that Keech chose to censor words in a play based on the writings of James Thurber, the humorist who knew well that, yes, laughter is the truest genius of men.
Too bad Thurber is not still among us. He would have had a field day lampooningthis mess.