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School Libraries and Kids' Books That Seem To Put Communist Cuba in a Positive Light:

South of the Suwannee writes [UPDATE: I originally credited this to University of Miami lawprof Michael Froomkin, but i was mistaken; Michael was just the person who pointed me to this post]:

Embargo of the Mind

"The book has content and pictures that are reflective of the current Communist regime. Staff is following approved School Board rules to remove the book from all libraries."

Miami-Dade Schools Supertendent Rudy Crews, in a memo regardng a book on Cuba.

The publication Vamos a Cuba/A Visit to Cuba is part of a series described by Publishers Weekly:

Grade 2-4-These informative and colorful books can be placed either in a reference collection or in a circulating collection. The title pages feature a world map with the respective country highlighted, and a table of contents outlines the broad subject categories covered (e.g., points of interest, homes, food, clothing, work, transportation, language, education, entertainment, celebrations, and the arts). Information is offered in simple statements without commentary, the attractive layout features full-color photographs of children in many different scenes, and selected words are bolded within the text and later explained in the glossary. Appended are key facts about the country, an index, a bibliography, and a short list of words and their many variants (e.g., apartamento-departamento; bus-autob#s-cami?n; calabaza-guaje). These books will be invaluable for homework assignments and will appeal to readers who are curious about life in other countries.

Sorry, we'll tell you what countries you are allowed to be curious about.

This is quite close to the issue that the Supreme Court failed to decide in the 4-1-4 Board of Education v. Pico (1982) case. My sense is that Justice Rehnquist had the better of that argument — a school library is a means for the school to communicate to children those views that it thinks are accurate, educational, and generally right (or at least plausible). It may well be good for the school to take a latitudinarian approach to this, and to include even things that are controversial, that contradict each other, or that contradict some of the values that the school is trying to inculcate. But that seems to me a judgment call for the school to make, and not a constitutional command.

This is especially so as to books aimed at second-to-fourth graders. Consider how the Miami Herald article that Michael points to describes it:

A portrait of kids outfitted as Pioneers — Cuba's communist youth group — is emblazoned across the book's cover. Inside pages show scenes of a joyous carnival held on July 26, the anniversary of the Cuban revolution....

The publisher's website says the series is intended to help readers understand what it's like to be a child in another land. The books are geared toward children ages 5-7 in grades K-2....

It seems to me that a school board might reasonably conclude that the book conveys an inaccurately positive image of life in Communist Cuba, and improperly implicitly praises the Cuban revolution and its works; others might interpret it differently, but a school board ought to have very broad discretion deciding what books 5-to-7-year-olds should be seeing in the school board's library.

By the way, what if there had been a similar travelogue on "A Visit to South Africa" in the mid-1980s, showing pictures of smiling happy white children in White Summer Camps wearing uniforms of some pro-apartheid youth group, plus a picture of smiling happy black children in Black Summer Camps for good measure? Seems to me that when school libraries contain such books, children — especially very young children — might reasonably see the things being described in those books as good; and school officials should therefore be entitled to exclude books that positively depict things that school officials do not want to endorse.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Public School Curricular Decisions and the Constitution:
  2. School Libraries and Kids' Books That Seem To Put Communist Cuba in a Positive Light:
Anderson (mail) (www):
Yikes. I had to scroll back up to double-check that Eugene Volokh was actually writing this post.

Back during the Cold War, I attended two different elementary schools, both of which had "kid's-eye" books about the Soviet Union &China. They depicted everyday life, not the gulags and the Chinese slave-labor factories.

It is really, really creepy to think that the school board could have pulled those books on the basis that children were forbidden to read ANYTHING about those countries other than how evil their rulers were.

(And is that blog really by Michael Froomkin? Because he sure doesn't identify himself or use his usual e-mail.)
4.6.2006 9:27pm
Shangui (mail):
A portrait of kids outfitted as Pioneers -- Cuba's communist youth group -- is emblazoned across the book's cover. Inside pages show scenes of a joyous carnival held on July 26, the anniversary of the Cuban revolution....

It seems to me that a school board might reasonably conclude that the book conveys an inaccurately positive image of life in Communist Cuba, and improperly implicitly praises the Cuban revolution and its works

I have no comment on the legal issues here, but something like the described book may well provide a very accurate perspective on one aspect of life for children in a place like Cuba. The notion that every aspect of life under most repressive regimes is unrelenting misery is both inaccurate and detracts from our ability to understand the internal dynamics of the power structures those places. China, for example, has its own young pioneers and my sense is that, in general, the kids enjoy it just like kids here enjoy the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Do most 8 year-olds understand the Christian beliefs underlying the Scouts? No. Or at least I certainly didn't when I was one. Likewise, the young pioneers don't understand the web of political indoctrination that their organization is a part of. They simply have fun hanging out with other kids, participating in parades, cleaning up public litter, etc. It's not any more inaccurate to show these activities than it is to only show brutal political repression. Both are simultaneously true and part of the lived experiences in these places. Rather than not allowing US school children to see the positive images, we should instead make sure that the positive images are shown with other aspects of life in Cuba, etc., at least to the degree that such would be age-appropriate.
4.6.2006 9:34pm
Vovan:
By the way, what if there had been a similar travelogue on "A Visit to South Africa" in the mid-1980s, showing pictures of smiling happy white children in White Summer Camps wearing uniforms of some pro-apartheid youth group, plus a picture of smiling happy black children in Black Summer Camps for good measure?

With all due respect preofessor, the better analogy would be to ask if Miami-Dade Schools allow books about China such as this one here
, rather than bring up apartheid, which Cuba for all its faults is not.

Also, its a chidlren's book about Cuban chidlren, even if they are godless commy pioneers, do you think that they don't smile, or have festivals? The worst that chidlren will learn when reading this book, is that Cuba has children just like them.

I am in agreement with Froomkin - the school board has no business banning this book
4.6.2006 9:39pm
EricH (mail):
Well, the Professor's analogy remains hanging there; ignored or dismissed but still there like the proverbial pink elephant (no, not gay Republicans mind you).

What about a book showing happy children - black and white - living under apartheid? I'm sure that there were times even for black children where they were happy, right?

Playing soccer perhaps or tag on the playground?

Schools mustn't remove works portraying that as well?

He who says "A" must say "B".

SMG
4.6.2006 9:56pm
Shangui (mail):
What about a book showing happy children - black and white - living under apartheid? I'm sure that there were times even for black children where they were happy, right?

An important question here is what the book says about the reason the children are happy? Does it say that they are happy because the apartheid system shows them respect and betters their lives? Well, that would be clearly inaccurate. The book on Cuba doesn't seem to be saying that the children are happy because of Cuba's political system. A cited passage says, "A portrait of kids outfitted as Pioneers -- Cuba's communist youth group -- is emblazoned across the book's cover. Inside pages show scenes of a joyous carnival held on July 26, the anniversary of the Cuban revolution...." I'm sure kids do celebrate this happily, without any understanding of what it means. At the same time, many of adults probably celebrate it with full knowledge of what it means. They may well honestly feel that they have been better off under Castro then they would have been under the alternatives. We can disagree with them (and I do), but the claim is far from demonstrably false (and the same would hold for people's feelings towards the CCP in China). Was there a large segment of the black population that thought apartheid was not great, but better than the alternatives? That is not my impression. The situations just don't seem analogous.
4.6.2006 10:18pm
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
No children's book offers a comprehensive, balanced account of the pros and cons of a given topic. They're not supposed to do that. Children's books tend to idealize the founding fathers of this country and gloss over their active and/or complicit roles in human slavery. Children's books tend to not to linger on the market failures in capitalism. Children's books about Italy don't stress corruption endemic in its political system. Is it really necessary to highlight in a children's book the bad parts of life in Cuba? Afterall, much of what is notable about Cuban or Chinese or Russian culture has nothing to do with communism.

I don't know about the Constitutional aspect of this issue, but from a policy perspective, this seems (a) silly and (b) highly motivated by the political climate in Miami.
4.6.2006 10:20pm
KenB (mail):
Froomkin blogs at discourse.net. The anonymous SouthOfTheSuwannee blogger links to him in other posts, so if this is also Froomkin, he's being exceedingly tricksy.
4.6.2006 10:22pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Quite a number of years after the fall of the USSR, I was in a public library and found several books written long before extolling both the virtues and the wonderful future of communist countries. Prior to the Fall, they would have been part of a balanced view--there were plenty of books explaining how this thing wasn't working out--but afterwards they seemed like an anachronism.

I talked to the librarian and his answer was that they had no actual process for removing books due to proven obsolesence. If the world had just recently been shown to be round, there was no rationale for removing the Flatearthers' books. Eventually, in search of shelf space, or if the volumes got too ratty, they'd be gone.

I think our county still has four or five volumes of Arming America.

I wouldn't want to pull the book in question about Cuba if there were balancing views available. But, the ALA being who they are, that isn't likely except where the Cuban emigres are numerous.
4.6.2006 10:39pm
neutral:
Shangui,

China, for example, has its own young pioneers and my sense is that, in general, the kids enjoy it just like kids here enjoy the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

Well, I can tell you something from my experience, which by the way may also be the reason Professor Volokh paid attention to this news. Soviet Pioneer organization was a means of indoctrination AND opression. Kids surely enjoyed playing. We did not enjoy parades, for which we were forced to drill. Military-style parade drills since grade 1, how much fun do you think it was?

This is also the system to bear pressure on children who happen to have minimally independent thoughts and enforse conformity. Since grade 1, again. Six-to-seven years old is when children are expected to know what to not to say aloud in public or else.

So, of course kids are kids and they find ways to have fun even in concentration camps. Not because camp is such a beautiful place, though.
4.6.2006 10:46pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Forget about communist indoctrination... that's in the past. Clearly this is a threat to our entire way of life.
4.6.2006 10:49pm
Shangui (mail):
So, of course kids are kids and they find ways to have fun even in concentration camps. Not because camp is such a beautiful place, though.

I understand your general point, and admit ignorance about what things were like in the USSR. My experience (not personal, but through many friends there and living there) is with China, and it seems kids had a lot more fun.

But like the South Africa example, the concentration camp example is not analogous to the situation in Cuba or in China. Were there many Jews in the concentration camps who thought they were far from perfect, but still a system worth keeping and working within for change? Of course not. Yet that is the view (as I understand it) of many people in Cuba and (as I know to be the case) of many people in China as well. I think we can all agree that the apartheid gov't in SA was uniformly horrible for blacks and the Nazi gov't was the same for Jews. This is not at all the concensus for the cases of the Cubans and Chinese in their views of their own governments.
4.6.2006 11:02pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Shangui: I stand by my analogy, rough as it is. But even if there is an important difference between the happy-kids-under-apartheid book and the happy-kids-under-Cuban-Communism book, it's not a constitutionally significant difference. It shouldn't be up to courts to decide, as a matter of First Amendment law, which books extol a bad enough ideology that schools may decide to remove them from school libraries; it should be up to school boards.
4.7.2006 12:28am
brad:
The "1" opinion - Justice White - called for a full development of the record at trial. What happend on remand? Was it dropped?
4.7.2006 12:32am
Suwannee (mail) (www):
Although I am flattered to have people think that my blog, South of the Suwannee, might be written by Michael Froomkin, such is not the case.

As to the potential banning of the children's book about Cuba from libraries of the Miami-Dade public schools, I don't question whether the M-D School Board has the legal ability to do so, only whether it is a wise decision.

The book's removal is clearly the result of local politics. How likely is it that any other school board -- anywhere else in the nation -- will take similar action against this book?
4.7.2006 12:45am
jota:
God forbid, if these books were allowed in our schools, then we run the risk of tomorrow's children being less inclined to compare Cuba to 1980s South Africa.

Which is to say in a somewhat sarcastic fashion that the school policy is stupid and the basis of the comparison itself is likely predicated on misinformation. Have any of the people on these school boards actually been to Cuba? Probably not, unless they're willing to vioalte federal law.

To make another comparison, we in the west condemn Arab countries for indoctrinating their youth with certain views of the Great and Little Satans who are the source of all their problems. I don't think it's right to complain about their one-sided brainwashing and then find this book on Cuba offensive. Seems a little inconsistent.

And if we're willing to close this off from constitutional dialogue (which plausibly could be the correct course), then we're willing to cede whole swaths of education of the young to schools boards who may install our libraries with things far more pernicious than books on intelligent design or poverty in Cuba. What's to stop school districts from brain washing our children into thinking Arabs, Gays, Hispanics, etc etc are all vile, depraved, child murdering, jesus-hating, anti-americans undeserving of respect? Oh, wait.

And on another note, I would think the fact that public education is compelled up to a certain age, combined with the fundamental right to rear children as one sees fit might have something to say about whether the contents of a public school library are completely closed off from any constituional challenge.
4.7.2006 12:45am
Proud to be a liberal :
One must read Pico in light of Hazelwood. A school library would likely be considered a school-sponsored activity, so that the books could be perceived as having the imprimatur of the school. They are also funded by the school and staffed by the school. Thus, I would think the school would have substantial discretion in deciding what books to include in a library much as the school as discretion to decide what plays to produce.

A recent interesting incident happened I believe in Georgia. A school district received complaints after Grease was produced as the school play -- and then they cancelled The Crucible for the spring play.

There is also an interesting Eleventh Circuit case, Virgil, in which the school removed The Miller's Tale and Lysistrata from the curriculum after receiving complaints. There was too much sex in them!

I do think though that there are some books on the list of frequently banned books that could survive a First Amendment challenge. For example, some complaints have been made about The Diary of Anne Frank. I cannot conceive of a legitimate pedagogical interest in removing The Diary of Anne Frank from a school library. What do you think?
4.7.2006 12:52am
Proud to be a liberal :
One must read Pico in light of Hazelwood. A school library would likely be considered a school-sponsored activity, so that the books could be perceived as having the imprimatur of the school. They are also funded by the school and staffed by the school. Thus, I would think the school would have substantial discretion in deciding what books to include in a library much as the school as discretion to decide what plays to produce.

A recent interesting incident happened I believe in Georgia. A school district received complaints after Grease was produced as the school play -- and then they cancelled The Crucible for the spring play.

There is also an interesting Eleventh Circuit case, Virgil, in which the school removed The Miller's Tale and Lysistrata from the curriculum after receiving complaints. There was too much sex in them!

I do think though that there are some books on the list of frequently banned books that could survive a First Amendment challenge. For example, some complaints have been made about The Diary of Anne Frank. I cannot conceive of a legitimate pedagogical interest in removing The Diary of Anne Frank from a school library. What do you think?
4.7.2006 12:52am
Proud to be a liberal :
One must read Pico in light of Hazelwood. A school library would likely be considered a school-sponsored activity, so that the books could be perceived as having the imprimatur of the school. They are also funded by the school and staffed by the school. Thus, I would think the school would have substantial discretion in deciding what books to include in a library much as the school as discretion to decide what plays to produce.

A recent interesting incident happened I believe in Georgia. A school district received complaints after Grease was produced as the school play -- and then they cancelled The Crucible for the spring play.

There is also an interesting Eleventh Circuit case, Virgil, in which the school removed The Miller's Tale and Lysistrata from the curriculum after receiving complaints. There was too much sex in them!

I do think though that there are some books on the list of frequently banned books that could survive a First Amendment challenge. For example, some complaints have been made about The Diary of Anne Frank. I cannot conceive of a legitimate pedagogical interest in removing The Diary of Anne Frank from a school library. What do you think?
4.7.2006 12:52am
Anthony (mail) (www):
It is strange to see how on the one hand members of our society disapprove the reactions of Muslim countries on the cartoons controversy and advocate freedom of speech and on the other hand we show that freedom of speech does have some limitations in our socity, especially when the sensitive issues are concerned.
4.7.2006 5:30am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Anthony. This is a joke, right?

Some people (you?) disapprove of rioting, killing, and death threats over cartoons. Boy, is that narrow.

And here we have a school library removing a book from its shelves--not burning it or its author--quite peacefully and leaving it to be read by any who wish elsewhere.

And this is equivalent?

Naw. You left off the sarcasm/irony tag, didn't you?
4.7.2006 8:46am
Smithy (mail) (www):
This is simply disgraceful. It's bad enough that many professors are merely Marxists with PhD's but now we've got books in children's libraries libraries spreading Marxist propaganda.

Cuba is the last bastion of totalitarianism. It is my sincere hope that when we are done cleaning things up in the middle east, that we will be able to effect regime change in Cuba. The people of Cuba have lived without freedom for too long. It is time for them to tast liberty.
4.7.2006 9:36am
yellow dog:

Cuba is the last bastion of totalitarianism.


Snicker. Tell the folks in Sudan, North Korea, China, Burma (err.. "Myanmar"), Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc.
4.7.2006 10:19am
Anthony (mail) (www):
Richard,

The point is not reaction of the Muslim countries (I certainly disapprove any violent actions). But critics claim that freedom of speech is protected in our society, the actions of the school are the infringements of the freedom of speech. And if some materials can be legally banished in our society, then by the same token we might banish others (this is another argument for those who threaten to kill or who riot over cartoons). Whether we banish it violently or in non violent manner is irrelevant.
4.7.2006 11:02am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Prof. Volokh, curiously perhaps, doesn't address the "slippery slope" potential here.

Would a public-school library be able to exclude The Communist Manifesto on the same basis? Why not?

What about Paley's Natural Theology?

How about John Kerry's campaign biography?
4.7.2006 11:22am
Mr L:
Prof. Volokh, curiously perhaps, doesn't address the "slippery slope" potential here.

I don't think it's needed. Stuff like the books you mentioned can be justified as being outside advocacy by virtue of their historical or political importance. As in, putting Mein Kampf on the shelves is distinct from putting up just any old racist tract, because it's Mein Kampf.
4.7.2006 11:33am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Anthony.
You brought up the Muslim reactions. There had to be a reason. If you didn't mean to compare the two, you goofed up and sure looked as if you did.

The removal of a book from a school library is not a matter of freedom of speech. The book is not banned, burned, or forbidden. People will not be prosecuted for reading it or discussing the ideas within.
4.7.2006 11:36am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Stuff like the books you mentioned can be justified as being outside advocacy by virtue of their historical or political importance.

Of course (Kerry aside), but the issue isn't "can keeping the book be justified?" It's "can the book be removed on political grounds?"
4.7.2006 11:39am
Anthony (mail) (www):
Richard,

I brought Muslim reactions because many observers in this country claimed that reprinting of the cartoons is the freedom of speech and there is no legal means to ban the reprinting of these cartoons altogether. Some Muslims do not believe it and actions like this (removing of the books under flimsy pretexts), in my opinion, might give some arguments to those who claim that freedom of speech can be limited in the Western countries as it shows that it is subjected to some limitations.
This is just about moral right of the Western countries in their dialogue with Muslims ones. I hope I have made my point clear on this matter.

For me the fact that book has been removed from the shelves is the vindication that freedom of speech can be limited in some instances as if it was possible to remove it in this case, what guarantee do we have that it will not be removed from other shelves and might not be banned altogether under this pretext or that.
4.7.2006 12:12pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Anthony.

To ban a book requires government action. No agency of the government has the power to do so. The mechanism does not exist. If the president and the Congress were to pass a law banning a book, who is the enforcement agency?

Can't be done as a practical matter and can't be done as a constitutional matter. As you know.

By your lights, every book a library takes off its shelves for whatever reason is "banned" or the next thing to it. Or leads to it. Or could lead to it. Or is essentially the same as killing an author.

Nuts.

There is a point where bogus equivalence defeats itself because it's both so obvious and so silly. More subtlety is called for. People aren't as dumb as you believe. More work, I know, but it's necessary.
4.7.2006 12:56pm
CJColucci (mail):
When I was a mere lad, we were all taught that the vile Commies were 11 feet tall and ate their young. This, of course, was not true, and when students caught on, they tended to discount whatever they were told, even when true, refusing to believe that the vile Commies were between 5 and 6 feet tall and occasionally hit their young. Unintended consequences.
4.7.2006 2:20pm
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
Following up on CJColucci a bit, I had an interesting exchange with some friends from the former Soviet Union that I think is relevant here. They said that Soviet anti-Western propoganda was transparently propaganda and, realizing this, the average Soviet was not particularly inclined to harbor irrational hatred of Americans, at least not to the degree that might have been suggested by the official line. On the other hand, Americans exposure to anti-Soviet propaganda was more subtle, seemingly not coerced by the U.S. government, and the effect was that Americans actually harbored more irrational fear and hatred of Soviet Commies than the Soviets felt toward the U.S.

Its hard to empirically back this kind of claim up, but I think the larger point is useful. Indoctrination (in the bad sense) can happen through institutions with seemingly benign purposes and limited coercive power (the Boy Scouts exclusion of atheists and gays, pledging allegiance to one nation under god in public school every morning, loal school boards removing a book for American kids about Cuban kids because they don't criticise the Cuban government) even more effectively than when an actively coercive government entity tries its hand at it. So, I think we should look very critically at these kinds of decisions even when they are made by local school boards, especially when they involve controversial political issues like South Florida's disposition towards Cuba.
4.7.2006 2:53pm
Dave Sheldon (mail):
Considering the fact that this is Miami, there's more factors to consider. While it is true that the Cuban community in Miami is in the majority and wields great political power, this decision could have been made by a neutral schoolboard in order to prevent disruptions in the schools. Showing support for Castro in Miami often can lead to violent repercussions:
Take the case of former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, Jr. In the early 1990s, he wrote a series of editorials opposing an effort by CANF to strengthen the embargo. Mr. Mas Canosa fought back. In 1992, he began a campaign against the Herald, distributing thousands of bumper stickers and putting up billboards with the slogan, "I don't believe the Herald."

Mr. Lawrence received death threats and was forced to travel with bodyguards. Newspaper vending machines were smeared with feces. In recognition, the Scripps Howard Foundation gave Mr. Lawrence its Service to the First Amendment award.

(from this site, reprinting a story from the time around the Elian Gonzales controversy)

For more anecdotal evidence of the difficulty of living in Miami as a pro-Castro Cuban: A friend of mine was raised by his Cuban grandparents in Florida. His grandfather was vehemently pro-Castro, and they found that they had to move as far north as the Orlando area to live in peace.
4.7.2006 3:21pm
NickM (mail) (www):
What, pray tell, does that series's book on the Sudan look like?

As for the comparison made of blacks in apartheid South Africa with Jews in Nazi Germany, please get serious. There is a vast gulf between peonage and "if they find you, they kill you". Ther are strong arguments to be made that life was worse for the average black person during the 1970s and 1980s in a significant number of other African countries, with Ethiopia being the most recognizable as to why.

Nick
4.7.2006 5:12pm
Porkchop (mail):
Anthony wrote:


Richard,

I brought Muslim reactions because many observers in this country claimed that reprinting of the cartoons is the freedom of speech and there is no legal means to ban the reprinting of these cartoons altogether. Some Muslims do not believe it and actions like this (removing of the books under flimsy pretexts), in my opinion, might give some arguments to those who claim that freedom of speech can be limited in the Western countries as it shows that it is subjected to some limitations.
This is just about moral right of the Western countries in their dialogue with Muslims ones. I hope I have made my point clear on this matter.

For me the fact that book has been removed from the shelves is the vindication that freedom of speech can be limited in some instances as if it was possible to remove it in this case, what guarantee do we have that it will not be removed from other shelves and might not be banned altogether under this pretext or that.



While I think this was a silly decision, probably politically motivated, we are still dealing with a school library. Your slippery slope concerns would have more force if the book had been removed from a public library. If the district wants to have bland libraries in its elementary schools, it can do so. I suspect that most school libraries have few or no books by any number of controversial authors on any number of controversial subjects. I suggest that the Mohammed cartoons probably won't find their way into that library either (nor should they).

What kids read in elementary school as part of the official curriculum and what they may have available as supplemental reading material really have little to do with the broader freedom to read, write, and otherwise communicate political or other ideas in the community at large. Presumably, bookstores can still carry the book. It may well be in the local public lbrary, too. It is not banned -- it is simply not available at a particular location. The author is most likely not subject to a fatwa condemning him to death. That's a lot different than the Mohammed cartoons are treated in the Middle East. If all they did in Yemen or Saudi Arabia was say that kids cannot look at the Mohammed cartoons, we wouldn't be having this discussion -- it would be like Jerry Falwell's condemnation of Tinky-winky -- mostly amusing to those of us who do not share his views, and something for the market, not the scimitar, to sort out.
4.7.2006 6:40pm
eddie (mail):
This all begs the question:

Is it all right for outright propaganda to be published and accepted. As long as we show poverty and jack booted commies crushing youths, will such a book be sanctioned as showing what it means to be a child in Cuba?

And where do we stop? I understand that this is about young people, but let's be honest, if a an acceptable junta were in control of Cuba and the actual general living conditions of the majority of people were no better, would a book of smiling young fascist boy and girl scouts be banned? Hardly.

The legal argument is simple here: Politics will prevail. Unfortunately, I do not think that is the right answer for raising a truly informed population of citizens.
4.7.2006 6:58pm
msk (mail):
Would the library accept and allow circulation if those books were donated as "no strings" gifts to the school?

Clearly, you wouldn't accept donations of playground equipment that was unsafe.... Must private gifts be limited to items like projectors, microscopes, or book shelves, to keep all private donors out of curriculum decisions?

Example: The public library secures bookplates to name private donors of individual books, old or new, which tends to imply the donor's endorsement at least as strongly as the library's decision to provide access.

Non sequitur:
Visit the children's section of a major public library and look at publication dates on books about Iraq intended for very young scholars -- and then ask yourself if you think the sudden burst of publications and purchases in the 1990s was purely spontaneous.

Were those simply the most interesting, useful and popular books for children coming out that year?

Identifying propaganda methods or severely limited-scope treatments is a skill set ten or twelve-year-olds can develop if analytical and critical thinking is one of the curriculum goals.

About 20 years ago, a juvenile fiction author complained that all mentions of cake and ice cream had been banned by a major publisher because parent-activist committees in California had rejected a multi-year reading textbook series for including a picture of a birthday cake.

We get used to the idea that some noisy parents will object in a hugely influential way to any slightly risky idea. That may lead us to assume what gets into approved books must be safe and true, completely unoffensive.

These book-banning, news-hype rampages can create an illusion that all the books remaining in the library are officially OK. Or they can embarrass school officials and bore the public with technicalities of policy until the doors are thrown wide open to welcome trash.
4.9.2006 2:54pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Given that the books are intended for Grades 2-4, I wonder how it's possible to meaningfully teach such young children about the issue of Cuba. Better they should learn the multiplication tables and improve their reading levels than look at picture books that don't tell them much about anything. No matter how much fun the Cuban kids have or don't have in the Pioneers, that's irrelevant to the fact that you can't complain about Castro without losing your job or maybe going to jail. The real issues are too complex for a child.
4.9.2006 8:22pm