[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Finding a Middle Ground on Book Ban?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Finding a Middle Ground on Book Ban?

Last month in this post, I promised not to write anymore about the Vamos a Cuba book ban.

I broke my promise, sort of.

I posted a comment to a post over at Stuck on the Palmetto last night concerning the book, and Rick was kind enough to feature my comment in another post this morning. I wasn't sure whether to turn my comments into a post of my own, or just leave the comment at SOtP. In the end I did both, with an extra post courtesy of Rick thrown in.

Thanks Rick.

My SOtP comment was an attempt to try to make people understand why it's tough for many Cuban-Americans to pick a side here. Too much hostility and lack of respect has been on display, on both sides. Of course, politics had to get involved, which always does the bad deed of shifting the focus from the real issues to pandering. This is not the fault of the Cuban-American community at-large, but of a few who are trying to capitalize on a controversial and potentially polarizing topic. Tuning out the politics and concentrating on the real issues is hard, but must be done if we're going to learn something from this.

I normally don't like being in the middle on things. I like to form a definite opinion, even if it's not a strong one. I'm sure at some point I'll come up with one for Vamos A Cuba and possibly the other book now being questioned. But for now, I'm willing to sit back and let the dust settle a bit.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know im a little late to this thread, but here goes anyways.

Speaking as a staunchly Conservative, pro Cuba-libre kinda Librarian, (located here an academic library here in South Florida), I totally support the actions of the Miami-Dade board to remove this book from its collection. While I have read the book in question and don't see it as government inspired propaganda, I can certainly see how many here in South Florida can view its depictions of life in Cuba as very misleading. As one of the few pro-censorship librarians in the country, I think that it is within the rights of this board (and also within the Library's Acquisitions or Collection Development department, for that matter) to determine which books their collection should or should not contain. There is no "ban" on this book- only a removal from its collection. Anyone who truly wants this book can very easily obtain it from a publisher or other library. Are we saying here that libraries don't have the right to both select and manage their collections? The removal of a book from a collection is not tantamount to an infringement of our 1st amendment liberties- it is an affirmation of it. If you say otherwise, you are accusing collections librarians of censorship anytime one doesn't choose a book for purchase or removes one from a collection.

Our first amendment protects against the Governments' Censorship of Free Expression. The first amendment does not prohibit us (in this instance school boards, library selection committees, etc) from making decisions about what kinds of materials we include in our collections, especially in libraries that serve younger and more impressionable audiences.

1:11 AM, July 18, 2006  
Blogger Stephen Verbit said...

On June 14, 2006, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted to remove the book "Vamos A Cuba" from all school libraries in the school district. The ACLU challenged this decision in Federal District Court. In an extremely detailed, thorough, and well-reasoned opinion, the Court issued a preliminary injunction requiring the book to be returned to the shelves pending final hearing.

According to Frontpage Magazine writer Humberto Fontova, in this commentary, the book "depicts Castro's fiefdom as a combination Emerald City and Willi Wonka's Chocolate Factory." This is such a gross distortion of reality that it's obvious Fontova never even looked at the book.

Here are some of the allegedly pro-Castro communist statements contained in the book, which is a library book, not required reading in any classes, and was written for elementary school students: "Cuba is a country in the Caribbean Sea, south of Florida." "Cuba has flat plains that are used for farmland." "Many kinds of fruits grow in Cuba." "Baseball is Cuba's national sport." The book is replete with this kind of outrageous propagandistic misinformation.

What Fontova omits from his commentary is that two separate school district committees comprised of numerous local professional educators, as well as the School Superintendent himself, rigorously analyzed and evaluated the book and found it to be "scrupulously apolitical," accurate, and educationally significant and developmentally appropriate.

The School Board voted to ban the book because it omits the harsh truth about totalitarian life in Communist Cuba. In other words, because the book is neutral in its viewpoint, it is too favorable to Communist Cuba. Remember, this is a book that was written for kids ages 4 to 8.

The problem with the School Board's position is that the First Amendment prohibits school officials from removing books from library shelves "simply because they dislike the ideas contained in the books and seek by their removal to 'prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'" The Miami-Dade County School Board voted to remove the book precisely and only for those reasons which are prohibited by the very law they were sworn to uphold.

Amador Rodriguez, the concerned parent who initiated the book ban, said: "The book is correct in that in Cuba you can read, but you can only read what they tell you to." How ironic it is that by trying to make the school board remove the book from the library, this professed freedom-loving Cuban refugee is seeking to accomplish exactly that which he says he was trying to escape.

The solution that is supported by the First Amendment is for Mr. Rodriguez not to seek to ban books he doesn't agree with, but to write a competing book to be placed in the school library that depicts how terrible life is in Cuba under the Communist regime. Let the Miami-Dade School Board fill the library shelves with anti-Castro books if they want to. If they really care about the First Amendment and freedom, that is what they would be doing instead of wasting taxpayer dollars trying to defend their indefensible book banning.

8:46 AM, August 01, 2006  

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