Justification for Banning a Book?/Write & Save the World/New Book Form?/What’s Book Design?

July 8, 2006

Justifying Banning Vamos a Cuba
Last week I provided a link to a story about the Miami-Dade School Board pulling Vamos a Cuba from the school library shelves. Frank Bolanos sent this reaction to us and I presume other publications:

If the Newark, New Jersey school board decided to issue Little Black Sambo as a third grade reader, how would that largely African-American community react?

Famed progressive educator Carl L. Marburger posed this question in 1974, when he said controversial schoolbooks in rural West Virginia showed the public school system’s “astonishing insensitivity to local cultural values.”

Those aggrieved local folks endured the insults, catcalls and jeers of the liberal elite until Marburger, a self-described liberal’s liberal, spoke up and gave them pause. Today, the Miami-Dade school board and I are being accused of censorship for our efforts to remove from school libraries Vamos a Cuba, a children’s book that paints a false and distorted portrait of life in communist Cuba.

If the teachers’ unions, Herald columnists, the ACLU and Fidel Castro himself are to be believed, the Miami-Dade school board is pillaging school libraries, burning books, oppressing the intellectual freedom of helpless children, and stomping on the First Amendment.

None of this is true; this is not a First Amendment issue. Censorship occurs when government refuses to allow people to purchase material, not when it refuses to provide that material at no charge.

Just as the First Amendment grants basic freedoms to those espousing even the most repugnant of views, I support Alta Schreier’s right to author and publish Vamos a Cuba. I defend the right of any Miami bookstore to sell it and I defend the right of any American to read it. Indeed, let the author promote and sell her book and compete in the marketplace of ideas.

But taxpayers must not be forced to subsidize falsehoods, propaganda or insulting imagery. As Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

Simply put, Jefferson, a framer of the Constitution our critics cite, would see no reason for our schools to spend sparse taxpayer money to promote the circulation of misinformation and lies many in our community equate to oppression and the loss of liberty and life.

If our public schools provided Little Black Sambo to African-America children, I would stand with their parents as this would be offensive, racist and an inappropriate use of tax dollars. If our public schools put the grotesquely anti-Semitic children’s book The Poisonous Mushroom into libraries, I would stand with Jewish parents to oppose this abhorrent act and misappropriation of public funds. The struggle against Cuban communism is no less important.

In 1995, the Miami Herald was forced to trash an entire section after an offensive cartoon of Martin Luther King, Jr. was mistakenly printed inside. Over the nationally syndicated cartoonist’s objections, editors made the bold decision to pull a half million copies of the magazine.

They did it by hand; it took two full days. It was hard and expensive work to correct a mistake that took only moments to make. Similarly, a foolish decision by an entrenched bureaucracy had to be corrected and has cost our school district valuable time, money and focus.

After the mess, the Herald’s executive editor at the time wrote that the newspaper’s First Amendment obligation is “to present the broadest range of perspectives and opinions in its news and opinion pages. But a newspaper also has an obligation to protect its readers from the outrageously offensive or the egregiously insensitive.”

If such an obligation exists at a privately funded newspaper, certainly Miami’s public officials have a responsibility to assure taxpayers aren’t forced to subsidize racism, anti-Semitism or communism with public dollars.

Likewise, taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for entrenched and misguided bureaucrats who want to whitewash the horrors of life under Fidel Castro and his brutal regime.

The comparison of the bigotry found in Little Black Sambo, The Poisonous Mushroom, and the error in the Miami Herald with the communism of Cuba is at best sophomoric. The oppression resulting from bigotry and the repression of political figures is not the same. Repression changes with the overthrow of a regime, and its political veneer rots. But the bigotry of a society–free or repressed–is ingrained into a society, permeating its politics, economy, and culture. That’s why in the freest nation in the world various forms of racism and sexism are illegal but communism is not. Unfortunately Bolanos did not stick with his Jeffersonian notion. We do confuse our rights to express ourselves as guaranteed under the First Amendment with the rights of others—individuals, institutions, and governments—to financially support our expression. And the board is well within its Constitutional rights to ban the book. Unfortunately it does not change the stupidity of the action. It opens the doors for others who oppose the political or religious concepts of others—whether liberal or conservative, Christian or not. If Vamos a Cuba portrays Cuba as a paradise, then doesn’t the action of the board varnish it as hell hole, and isn’t the truth somewhere in the middle.

That aside. I find one paragraph curious, interesting, and possibly offensive. Balonos writes, “If our public schools provided Little Black Sambo to African-American children, I would stand with their parents.” Personally I find the concept of this thought offensive. Why would a school board provide the book only to African-American children? Why wouldn’t the parents of white children be also offended? He writes similarly about The Poisonous Mushroom, indicating that only Jews would be protesting. Finally, he writes, “The struggle against Cuban communism is no less important.” There’s a non-sequitur.

Here’s the silliest of notions. This one book is part of a series, and each explores the world of children in different countries in a similar varnished style, commonly found in school books for younger children.
Write and Save the World
It sounds like a bumper sticker you put on your car in high school or college. Former counter-terrorism officer turned writer, Yasmina Khadra believes it and he tells Gerry Feehily “why fiction alone can win the battle to understand our world.”

McKenzie Wark Writes Online and Invents a New “Book”?
“They [McKenzie Wark and Bob Stein are] inventing new ways to write that accommodate both new ways of reading and a culture that is busy rethinking ideas of creativity, collaboration, and commodities,” writes Holly Willis in LA Weekly. It’s not a blog, a wiki, or a Web site. It’s what Wark is calling a networked book. Yet when you go to <http://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/?cat=1&paged=1>, where the book is being “written,” it seems more like a private MySpace or Multiply page without the pictures and blogging.

What’s a Book Designer Anyway?
It’s one of those careers no one thinks about until they are ready to publish a book. So what does a book designer do. Read this piece from India, Ink.


6 Responses to “Justification for Banning a Book?/Write & Save the World/New Book Form?/What’s Book Design?”

  1. Some would see the absence of blogging as an advantage.

  2. Romeo Says:

    This very interesting site

  3. Grimm Says:

    Hi Sam! You letter i received. Thanks! Photos is nice!!!

  4. Medicine yob Says:

    Good job and great design!

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