Schools are cultural battlegrounds, and a report out today from People for the American Way, a liberal watchdog group founded by TV producer Norman Lear and others, totes up the casualties. In the 1995-96 academic year, PFAW found 300 attempts at censorship of books and movies in public schools, with 41 percent of them successful in getting the works removed or restricted. The report is by no means a complete list of such incidents in America.
Most of the censorious parents campaigned against works they thought were too sexually explicit--like the film Romeo and Juliet in Dublin, Ohio--although complaints about anti-religious themes also topped the list. Parents in Des Moines tried and failed to stop a school performance of the classic play Inherit the Wind about, ironically enough, the struggle to teach evolution in the schools in the 1920s.
As a group, black women authors like Angelou attracted a disproportionate number of complaints, part of a backlash, PFAW thinks, against an increasing emphasis on multiculturalism in the schools. But the politically correct crowd also protests: Mark Twain is one perennial target for his use of the word "nigger" in dialogue.
This school year is at least a step up from last year's, when 388 censorship drives had a 50 percent success rate. The PFAW takes that as a sign that the battleground is shifting away from individual books and films and toward a broader front. For instance, 20 states and the U.S. Congress are considering "parental-rights" initiatives. These measures state that "the right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children shall not be infringed," language that could be interpreted to give any parent the right to keep a book away from a child in school.