“We’ll censor anything, even the dictionary”

According to this story in the Press-Enterprise (Southern California), school officials in the Menifee Union School District have decided to censor a most-unlikely target: the latest Merriam-Webster dictionary. The reason? An allegedly too-precise definition for “oral sex.”

If it’s the same as this definition from merriam-webster.com then I honestly can’t tell what all the uproar is about. Quoted below just so you can see what I’m referring to:

Main Entry: oral sex
Function: noun
Date: 1973

: oral stimulation of the genitals : cunnilingus, fellatio

The reason given is, to me, lamer than a one-legged duck:

“It’s just not age appropriate,” said [district spokesperson Beth] Cadmus, adding that this is the first time a book has been removed from classrooms throughout the district.

Particularly troublesome–and according to the story, parents and members of the school board have a problem with this too–is that it is based on one parent’s complaint.

I concur in principle with Rita Peters, a school board member who is quoted in the story as saying “If we’re going to pull a book because it has something on oral sex, then every book in the library with that better be pulled.” I say “in principle” here because the far more likely outcome is that this silly run of censorship will be stopped dead in its tracks because nobody will want to go through an entire school library looking for mentions of such things.

It’s a slippery slope, and I don’t think there’s a single place where one can draw the line that will make every parent happy. Besides, the kids will learn about “the birds and the bees” at some point anyway. Should that be taught in first grade? Probably not. The age at which it is appropriate is a topic of debate and may not even be the same for every child. What is not appropriate, at any age, is teaching our children that censorship is an acceptable response to objectionable material.