Md. fifth in country in wanting to ban school materials Carroll does it twice

September 01, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Attempts to ban school materials hit a 12-year high across the country last year, with Maryland as the state with the fifth-highest number of challenges, according to a report released yesterday in Washington by People for the American Way.

The liberal organization that acts as a watchdog against book-banning said it confirmed 462 cases where parents or others challenged books in the 1993-1994 school year.

Three of the 20 challenges in Maryland succeeded in removing the material: Carroll County schools removed two books from their libraries -- "Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes" and "A Deadly Game" by Anita Jackson -- after parents complained of violence and language.

Frederick County schools pulled a planned showing of the film "1984," based on the George Orwell novel, after parents complained about sex and nudity in the R-rated film. The superintendent canceled the film over objections from staff, who favored showing it to students who got permission from their parents.

Many of the objections raised by parents or groups in Maryland were rooted in religion. The challenges went beyond library books or texts and into curriculum and test content. Church-based groups opposed education reform and state tests that they said encroached on parents' teaching their own values.

Among the challenges in Maryland reported by People for the American Way: a Hagerstown parent charged blasphemy in a Webster's dictionary; in nearby Clear Spring, a parent said the same about "Of Mice and Men;" and a group of parents in Walkersville, Frederick County, said a Planned Parenthood paid advertisement in the high school newspaper promoted promiscuity.

Nationally, religious-right groups led or lent support in 22 percent of all documented incidents, according to People for the American Way. The group also contends that in another 14 percent of the challenges, "targets, strategies and rhetoric appeared to be inspired by these groups."

"The public schools are becoming the favorite target of leaders within the religious right political community," says Arthur J. Kropp, president of People for the American Way.

In Florida, the conservative Eagle Forum and American Family Association challenged a bill requiring the teaching of the

Holocaust in middle and high schools, charging that it was social engineering.

The man who decided to remove the Roald Dahl book from elementary school libraries in Carroll County says there's a difference between the "selection" he did and censorship.

"The school system's role is that of selecting the most appropriate materials for students -- it's not censorship," says Gary Dunkleberger, Carroll director of school curriculum. "We have no obligation at all to use all the things that are printed."

Dr. Dunkleberger says he agrees with the parent who complained that the Roald Dahl book was violent, and that words such as "slut" were inappropriate for elementary school children.

The last time Dr. Dunkleberger tried to remove a book, "The Epic of Gilgamesh" in 1991, veteran English teacher Dottie Farley opposed him before the school board with an impassioned and successful argument against censoring the classic poem.

School boards and administrators must remember that every time they remove a book already in use, they are encouraging special interest groups who want to promote their values, says Ms. Farley, who chairs the English department at Liberty High School in Eldersburg and was elected by other language teachers in the state as Teacher of the Year last fall.

"I don't even know what 'religious right' is anymore, because it wears so many masks and faces," Ms. Farley says.

"The trend now is this damned political correctness," Ms. Farley says. "I think there's some really well-meaning people trying to protect kids, but . . . they're forgetting the Constitution and the right I have to read what I want to read."

Ms. Farley says parents have the right to say no to a book for their own children, however, and she always offers alternative books. But these individuals or groups don't have the right to keep other students from reading or studying, she says.

"If the agenda of a group is to indoctrinate their own values, then they better open their own schools."

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