Thursday, June 15, 2006

Miami: Book Banning Fever

The Miami School board has voted to remove a book titled "Vamos A Cuba" from the Miami Dade County schools sytem. By all accounts, it is a farce praising the wonders of Castro's Cuba and a complete whitewash of the regimes policies.

A board member said: "In the school system there is no place for a book that lies, confuses, and is confusing, specially for grade school children."


This is not required reading or a textbook for students, it is a book in a childrens library!
Removing books from tax-supported public school systems is patently offensive to anyone who cares about censorship and freedom of speech.

If an author gives wrong or misleading information about Cuba, find another source that offers the truth. If a kids read a book that shows Cubans with full plates of foods (which is what this book did), the parents can set him/her straight.

Children in grade school read Harry Potter, they can surely read a 40 page book critically. Heck, the book is so stupid, even my 4 year nephew would say its bullshit.

Is it offensive to Cuban-Americans? Well, let me ask if Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer are offensive to African Americans? Why, because that was exactly the argument made by parents who tried to remove Twain's books - and that was censorship and wrong too. Many "selective libertarians" were among the loudest complaining about censorship and political corectness in that case, lets see if they step up now.
Ultimately, if people really want to fight Castro, support the freedoms he so clearly denies Cubans.

And anyway, parents should stop wasting time and energy trying to censor childrens books. People in Miami (and South Florida for that matter) would do better getting their kids to read ANYTHING - or pick up a book themselves. A city this big where reading "The Da Vinci Code" is viewed as an intellectual feat, and which lacks a classical music radio station, sure could use some culture.


The Plumber said...

Is all censorship bad? Even to children? I don't let children watch and read and do many, many things.

If the child picks up a book full of misleading information and reads it at the school library, how is the parent supposed to provide context or truth?

One more thing, Huck Finn is a work of fiction and is presented as such. Even so, many of the attitudes and customs Twain wrote of are accurate of the period. When Finn is required, the teacher always (my experience) provides historical context. Vamos A Cuba is presented as non-fiction. And per your own words, it isn't even good non-fiction.

Ultimately this whole thing is the fault of the parents though. They are the ones who entrust their children to the State eight hours a day and nine months a year. Don't like censorship to children? Pull your kids out of public school.

Boli-Nica said...

Plumber... The Constitutional standard is that School boards (elected by parents) do have wide discretion in pulling things that might be "age-inappropriate" - including books that might have dirty words.
And one fact I did not add was that the School board attempted to compromise by offering to put the book in a category where it could not be checked out without parental permission - as well as placing an inserting describing Cuba's situation.
Courts look to see if there are other non-burdensome alternatives to the downright banning.

My point with Mark Twain was not only because of Huck Finn, it is also relevant to "Heather Has Two Mommies" - which contains content one person might strongly think is inacurate, wrong and immoral, due to long-held beliefs. Put it in the same special category, but don't remove it.

Melek said...


I'm against censoring in most cases, however in this case the issue is the portrayal of book as "historical" and "didactic", when this is not the case. ... how can pre-K and 2nd graders reason (on their own) that not all that's depicted on this book is not true? Some positive reviews of this book state that the book just shows pictures with no commentaries ... of course ... the pictures do the job; there's no need to add anything ... to confirm what some of the photos show is to lie and stretch the "truth"; Moreover, to clarify them with commentaries discrediting them or challenging them would just defeat the purpose of the book (a propaganda tool -intended or not) ... then to leave it to the teachers to comment ... would be a "joke" because many would simply not question the veracity of the book ... the problem here is that this book is being used as a "reference" when it should not be ... "telling half a true" is still lying ...

Check the link below ... see who's defending the book . . . surprised?

En Miami Molesta La Sonrisa De Los NiƱos Cubanos

"In recognizing the emotional aspect of controversy, do not deny the rational." ~Unknown

:) Melek

Boli-Nica said...


The point is not whether the book is wrong, misleading or false - the point is you are removing it, because people say its content is wrong, misleading or false. That comes down to opinion. And given how passions get inflamed, nothing guarantees that the next one banned will be less clear-cut. As we speak some other book caught the eye of this crowd.

This cuts it at the bud.

You mentioned that the Cuban govt is defending the book.

I think you missed the point,
--- It is giving Castro another propaganda tool to blast the exile community.

To people outside of Cuba and the US, particularly in Latin America, it confirms certain pre-conceptions.they might have.

Look at the whole article, the Communists pretty shrewdly cite mostly US publications about both the book and the controversy. That way you could totally blog this story without even mentioning you saw it in the Cuban govt website.

Melek said...


Thanks for your comment. I may not have been clear in presenting my point. I know that emotions run strong in this issue, but my point was to present some rational side to why it is not appropriate to use it as a "didactic tool" for Pre-K - 2nd graders.

I fully agree about your concern on censorship or banning a book based solely on opinion. However, in this case the challenges presented on the accuracy of this book are not based on opinion only. There are well documented facts and testimonials from Cuba that show a different "reality" of a child's life in Cuba. That said, my point was that if you don't want to have the book removed, all that needs to be done is change it from a "reference, non-fiction" category. A very simple example of this would be the uproar about the book, "The Davinci Code" ... regardless of how strongly some may feel about it, this book is protected from censorship simply because it's classified as "Fiction" . . .

I wish you well ~ Melek :)

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." ~Winston Churchill

Boli-Nica said...

Melek, I get your point. Personally I would put the book behind the librarians desk, and request the parents permission to check it out. Would do the same for Slaughterhouse 5 or Catcher in the Rye. It could have been resolved that way. Or the parent in question could have simply burned the damn thing and payed whatever fine the school charges the kids families when they lose a book.

I just dislike what I refer to as "selective libertarians", the type who bitch about one side book banning, and then are quiet when someone on your side does it. People on the left calling out Bible-thumpers if they remove a book, but being shamefully quiet when a liberal-left school board in Seattle does the same thing.

Ironic thing about that cynical Castroite web page. Any Cuban reading that (if they are allowed), would read the text of the US articles about the controversy and see that there is a vigorous debate going on in a free press - which is not allowed in Cuba, further detailing the a process where the elected school authorities listen to their constituents at open meetings - an example of democracy which Cuba does not have. And in the greater scheme of things a Cuban would see that this is nothing less than parents and their elected representatives in the board having an open dialogue about the direction of the education of their children, something that the Cuban regime would never tolerate..

Marta Laura said...

Other books such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and videos such as Birth of a Nation, are also not in free-circulation in school libraries; if they are used in an age-appropriate curriculum, they are used to teach a specific message: that they are racist, bigoted and false.

Why is it that only the subject of Cuba that is subject to constitutional arguments about free speech when texts that are inaccurate in their content and propagandistic in their intent are concerned?

Racism is not exclusive to all except Cubans. It is time that our community stops tolerating racism against Cubans.

Boli-Nica said...

Marta Laura..
The clear issue for me has nothing to do with Cuba, and it is not selectively targeting Cubans. It has to do with Miami, (city where I live b/t/w) where a school board is trying to do something I think is wrong - even if I think the book itself is an abomination. But, I take censorship and civil liberties seriously. In Latin America I lived under governments on the right (Somoza, Salvador, Bolivia, Guatemala) and the left (Sandinista Nicaragua) that banned free speech (and often killed you for expressing ideas). In the US have seen leftists in college cmapuses and fundamentalists in the midwest try to crack down on freedom of speech through speech codes and book bannings

That is why I wrote it was wrong to have Cuban official Alarcon speak via satellite -IMO in a very lenient format - at a private journalists conference just north of Miami, because of the censorship and vicious attacks on journalists in Cuba.

I also wrote about the danger of censorship and dictatorship posed by the (elected) government of Venezuela not renewing the licenses of private TV channels.

It is all wrong...I would rather take a harder line anti-censorship position and allow bullshit like this book to go through, than to allow more exceptions.

Michael Caputo said...

July 8, 2006

By Frank Bolanos

Mr. Frank Bolanos is a member of the Miami-Dade School Board

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.


Boli-Nica said...

Michael I saw that. I think it is a self-serving article to keep his name in the press.

Bolanos is the one making off like a bandit on this issue.

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