Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cuba Libro Libre, for the moment

A federal judge has slapped down the Miami-Dade school district's removal of all copies of Alta Schreier's Vamos a Cuba, (the English edition is called Visit to Cuba) and all other books in Heinemann's Visit to . . . series from the district's school libraries. The suit to retain the books is ongoing, but the school board had removed the books pending judgment. Not. So. Fast. said U.S. District Judge Alan Gold, whose opinion, linked here as a pdf file, provides not only a comprehensive review of judicial decisions regarding schools and censorship, but also a sharp look at how censors seek to disguise their actions (here the school board claimed that their action constituted "government speech" and thus free of judicial oversight. Who do they think they are, the President?).

The case seems to be quite the political futbol in Miami, too. Opponents of the book, one of those cookie-cutter series books about foreign countries for primary grades, object to its lack of commentary on Castro's regime; some objected to the photos of people smiling (just as Ayn Rand did in front of the HUAC). While Vamos a Cuba/Visit to Cuba was the object of the ban, apparently they went for the series in general so as to claim content neutrality. The judge saw through that one, too; I think I'm in love. Miami Herald education reporter Matthew I. Pinzur's blog is also tracking this story; check it out.

Here is the official Horn Book Guide line on the book, which was reviewed together with Visit to Puerto Rico, in the same series. Rating the books as "5s" (not good), our reviewer Elena Abos wrote: "These books offer superficial introductions to the geography, people, customs, language, and daily life in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The formulaic texts are almost identical for both countries, and neither contains more than the barest amount of information. The large-print texts are accompanied by color photographs of varying quality and relevance. Short lists of facts and of nine Spanish words are appended."

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hadn't read the Rand testimony before, and I confess I rather like it -- more than any of her novels certainly. Anybody on the right or the left who lucidly objects to propagandazing can sit by me. I don't know my history well enough; should she have known, at this point, how poor an idea the HUAC would turn out to have been?

Anonymous said...

As an elementary school librarian, I find it a continuing problem to find quality, accurate books on countries. Of course, we'd all like a good series of even quality! Any suggestions?

Lynn said...

Anon said: "As an elementary school librarian, I find it a continuing problem to find quality, accurate books on countries."

Exactly! There is a demand for books students are able to use successfully when doing research and the pickings are slim. I wonder if the quality of research behind some series book are a direct result of the simple fact that titles are necessary and writers/publishers know the book will be purchased? Subsequently the quality is often lacking.

Thanks for the blog link on this topic.

rindawriter said...

Maybe, the ACLU ought to get a bit more involved with the issue of "whether a parent has a right to ask that his student be taught the truth about this or any other subject," quoting from the Miami newspaper article. I'd say teachers and librrians have a right to be included in teaching and promoting the truth as well....and that's only going to happen if there arenas made for TRULY free discsusion and TRULY free debate, due process, AND much money being spent on books, books, books...

If I were a teacher or a parent with a child caught in the middle of this mess, I would firmly calmly go right on bringing in other, more accurate source materials privately into my classroom or into my home as a parent. Hey, keep the series; don't keep the series, that's not the crucial issue, I feel, (and shame, shame on everyone who is spending big bucks on the fight here) when you have children who aren't stopping their growing up and their learning just because of our adult fights.

The point is to hvae debate to have discussion adn to bring other, richer, and more truthful materials into the classroom and into the home. So, best the ACLU get on the ball here, I say, as far as being far more proactive and positive for promoting what they are supposed to promote, searching for the truth, and if promoting due process gets everyone there faster, fine..but why the big bucks? Can't they find a more important issue to spend that money on?

Lt's all get going on more positive stuff in the school libraries and school classrooms...like big bucks spent on children's educations...

And let the librarians in local libraries do their jobs like they used to do....quietly weeding out what's high quality and what is not...

I'm stopping now. I get boiling mad when I see this kind of money spent on stuff like this when school budgets are getting so horribly cut here in King and Kitsap Counties in Washington State....

thommy said...

OK, I love the messiness of this story - commerce and censorship and xenophobia, all jumbled together inextricably, while folks on all sides oversimplify, or at least hyperfocus, in the interest of political advancement. I want John Sayles to make it into a movie.

Lynn said...

Information concerning this issue came through on the Libraries Direct email this afternoon as well. After re-reading the article, I find myself particularly interested in the last couple of lines (and I don't mean the obviously unintended 'simon says' pun).

"Simon said the board should adopt a policy of responding to controversial material by purchasing other material with different viewpoints, instead of imposing bans."

Often easier said than done.

Roger Sutton said...

I'd like to plug the Horn Book Guide as a source for reviews of countries-of-the-world series. The reviewer reads at least several books in each series and will note whether the quality is consistent across the series or not. The reviews will also tell you whether the series is new or revised, and how current the info is. I also find it interesting that publishers often repackage the same basic material and photographs for series aimed at different grade levels. Who knew school libraries had so much money? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I read the book and I just can't see what's wrong with it.
It contains simple, basic and absolutely accurate information: Cuba is an island, Habana is the capital, kids go to school wearing uniforms, etc.
I left Cuba in 1961 and visited 5 times between 1994-1999 and the pictures and the information in this book match reality. The problem in Miami is not this book. It's the Fanaticism,the Corruption and the Hypocrecy. Elena

Julie Larios said...

For the person asking about Ayn Rand and her knowledge of HUAC - she definitely knew that people's lives would be ruined by the testimony of Ronald Reagan, Sam Wood, Adolphe Menjou, Rupert Hughes, Walt Disney - well, the list is long of people who contributed to that witch hunt. Attorneys for the Hollywood Ten sat right in the courtroom as she gave her testimony, and it was well into the hearings, not prior to the foaming-at-the-mouth stage. Rand might have been asked only to comment on the "propaganda" elements of The Song of Russia, but she knew what effort she was contributing to. It's no surprise which side Rand (whose philosophy of Every-Man-For-Himself fit the situation well) came down on. She testified AFTER producer Sam Wood, whose infamously long list of the names of Hollywood's "communists" was considered so rabidly out of control, even by some of the HUAC committee. Rand was no anti-propaganda hero - and HUAC wasn't out to protect the American people from propaganda - just the wrong ("commie") kind of propaganda.