Censorship in Children’s Textbooks
On occasion, I write children’s textbooks. Often, the work is interesting and fun, if occasionally frustrating. Another textbook author told me years ago that many children’s nonfiction publishers maintain a conservative tone, so I wasn’t surprised when–working on a book about U.S. patriotism–I was asked to remove a reference to Native American peace pipes as well as a short biography noting that Katharine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful” maintained a long-time live-in relationship with a woman. (God forbid the K-8 crowd light up and shack up with someone of the same sex.)
Still, nothing prepared me for the recent revision of a first-grade textbook titled Help the Forest (Pearson Scott Foresman), an eight-page book distributed in school districts around Oregon and protested vociferously by parents in Grants Pass for its anti-logger propaganda. The text read, “These people do not take care of the forest. They cut down huge trees. They drop trash on the ground. The trees are gone. The birds cannot find homes. The animals cannot find food.”
Here: See the original version of the book for yourself. The photos on page 5 just about broke my heart. Were parents worried that that the little raccoons would break the tender hearts of their offspring, as well?
Surely, the publisher worried about heartbreak related to diminished profits. After books were pulled from Grants Pass classrooms, Pearson Scott Foresman sent the district 108 new copies of Help the Forest with revisions. In this new version, page 5 axes the chainsaw-wielding logger and replaces him with a firefighter and a tree planter, along with the following text: “These people take care of huge forest. They put out fires. They cut down sick trees. Then new trees can be planted. Animals will still have homes. They will still find food.”
I’m not sure either of these versions serve first-graders well. Both are flawed and full of propaganda. But much as I’d like to stand on one side of the logging debate, I consider several perspectives now, thanks to an interview I did with John Daniel whose recent book of essays, The Far Corner, examines (among other Northwest topics) old growth forests and clear-cutting practices.
The profile, which ran in High Country News, notes that “Over decades of migrating between cosmopolitan cities and tiny towns, relocating from deserts to forests to his current home in western Oregon, Daniel has pondered life from the perspective of the Northwest’s disenfranchised loggers. “These folks lost jobs,” he says. “Some of them were jobs on which you could support a family and live a middle-class life. To them, it feels like they’ve been steamrolled by a coalition of the federal government and green-oriented people from cities and suburbs who don’t give a damn. It’s too easy for us to tell them, ‘Well, you could open an espresso stand.’ “
There’s got to be a happy medium. I’d love to live in a world that has room for children’s textbooks which depict both loggers and firefighters in honest terms, which allows for the fact that a woman can be both patriot and lesbian, which acknowledges the fact that Native Americans did indeed smoke a pipe of peace.
Come to think of it, that last example sounds like a mighty good idea at this point in history.