School Libraries and Kids' Books That Seem To Put Communist Cuba in a Positive Light:

South of the Suwannee writes [UPDATE: I originally credited this to University of Miami lawprof Michael Froomkin, but i was mistaken; Michael was just the person who pointed me to this post]:

Embargo of the Mind

"The book has content and pictures that are reflective of the current Communist regime. Staff is following approved School Board rules to remove the book from all libraries."

Miami-Dade Schools Supertendent Rudy Crews, in a memo regardng a book on Cuba.

The publication Vamos a Cuba/A Visit to Cuba is part of a series described by Publishers Weekly:

Grade 2-4-These informative and colorful books can be placed either in a reference collection or in a circulating collection. The title pages feature a world map with the respective country highlighted, and a table of contents outlines the broad subject categories covered (e.g., points of interest, homes, food, clothing, work, transportation, language, education, entertainment, celebrations, and the arts). Information is offered in simple statements without commentary, the attractive layout features full-color photographs of children in many different scenes, and selected words are bolded within the text and later explained in the glossary. Appended are key facts about the country, an index, a bibliography, and a short list of words and their many variants (e.g., apartamento-departamento; bus-autob#s-cami?n; calabaza-guaje). These books will be invaluable for homework assignments and will appeal to readers who are curious about life in other countries.

Sorry, we'll tell you what countries you are allowed to be curious about.

This is quite close to the issue that the Supreme Court failed to decide in the 4-1-4 Board of Education v. Pico (1982) case. My sense is that Justice Rehnquist had the better of that argument — a school library is a means for the school to communicate to children those views that it thinks are accurate, educational, and generally right (or at least plausible). It may well be good for the school to take a latitudinarian approach to this, and to include even things that are controversial, that contradict each other, or that contradict some of the values that the school is trying to inculcate. But that seems to me a judgment call for the school to make, and not a constitutional command.

This is especially so as to books aimed at second-to-fourth graders. Consider how the Miami Herald article that Michael points to describes it:

A portrait of kids outfitted as Pioneers — Cuba's communist youth group — is emblazoned across the book's cover. Inside pages show scenes of a joyous carnival held on July 26, the anniversary of the Cuban revolution....

The publisher's website says the series is intended to help readers understand what it's like to be a child in another land. The books are geared toward children ages 5-7 in grades K-2....

It seems to me that a school board might reasonably conclude that the book conveys an inaccurately positive image of life in Communist Cuba, and improperly implicitly praises the Cuban revolution and its works; others might interpret it differently, but a school board ought to have very broad discretion deciding what books 5-to-7-year-olds should be seeing in the school board's library.

By the way, what if there had been a similar travelogue on "A Visit to South Africa" in the mid-1980s, showing pictures of smiling happy white children in White Summer Camps wearing uniforms of some pro-apartheid youth group, plus a picture of smiling happy black children in Black Summer Camps for good measure? Seems to me that when school libraries contain such books, children — especially very young children — might reasonably see the things being described in those books as good; and school officials should therefore be entitled to exclude books that positively depict things that school officials do not want to endorse.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Public School Curricular Decisions and the Constitution:
  2. School Libraries and Kids' Books That Seem To Put Communist Cuba in a Positive Light: