Silver Spring writer-singer Barry Louis Polisar publishes a "warning" on cassette tapes of his performances for children. "The songs on this recording have been known to offend some adults," it reads. "Children are advised to use discretion when exposing grown-ups to this material."
But in Anne Arundel County, they won't have the chance. The school system has used its discretion to ban Polisar's playfully subversive material, and now Polisar himself, from its classrooms and auditoriums.
Polisar, who's been performing in Anne Arundel's elementary schools for the past 15 years, says it's a case of censorship. School officials say it's a matter of taste.
The 35-year-old Polisar has made a name for himself locally and nationally for songs that speak, for better or worse, in the voice and idiom of children. "My Brother Threw Up on My Stuffed Toy Bunny," for example. "Mom Said 'No,' So I Said 'Why?' " "Never Cook Your Sister in a Frying Pan." "I Got a Teacher, She's So Mean." "Don't Put Your Finger Up Your Nose." And many more.
"I write for kids," Polisar said, perhaps unnecessarily. "I don't write for adults."
But Bruce Horner, coordinator of music for the Anne Arundel school system, said yesterday that an adult evaluation committee months ago deemed Polisar's books, videotapes and audio cassettes unsuitable for use as instructional materials in the county's 70 elementary schools.
And just last week, following the school review committee's lead, the county's Commission on Culture and the Arts formally withdrew its invitation to Polisar to appear before next month's showcase for school performers, a three-day event where artists audition for appearances at county schools.
Referring to the ban on Polisar's tapes and books, Horner acknowledged that it was "a fairly serious matter to reject an item" for use in the schools, "particularly every single thing a manufacturer or author has submitted," as the review committee did in Polisar's case -- twice in a matter of months earlier this year.
Horner said the committee, whose members included adult teachers and a parent, were unanimous in feeling that "a child who might have emotional problems would tend to regard the songs literally. Satire taken literally and acted out can be a very bad thing."
Polisar, in an interview, said, "When I'm singing about kids who are fighting, I'm not advocating bad behavior... . I am pulling it out in the open and singing a funny song about it. That's better than pretending those things are not happening."
He also noted that his work has received accolades in national publications as well as American Library Association awards and Parents' Choice Honors for its appealing treatment of issues relevant to children. CoEvolution Quarterly once said Polisar's songs were "well worth selling all your child-psychology texts for."
Polisar has also received two $500 grants from the Maryland State Arts Council's Artists-in-Education program, but the program's director, Linda Vlasak, said yesterday that "it does not follow that everyone who is on our roster has to be automatically acceptable to everybody. ... On the contrary, we count on counties, private organizations and individual schools to have their own standards of acceptability."
On the other hand, Vlasak said, the performances partially funded by the program she directs "definitely were not objectionable and were very well received by the audience of parents and children. He's very popular because he's a good showman."
Polisar noted that one offended listener had written to attack his songs for "demonic anarchy." Incontestably some of his songs act out the wicked fantasies of normal children -- "When the House Is Dark and Quiet," for example, which is about terrorizing babysitters:
We go and put the goldfish in the toilet bowl,
And spread strawberry jelly on the toilet paper roll,
Standing on the sofa with carrots up our noses,
Pretending we are monsters, not wearing any clothes-es ...
Those who would censor such material, Polisar said, are "people who want to look at life with all the bad parts cut out." Horner, the Anne Arundel schools' music coordinator, said, "I would not call it censorship at all. We've simply determined that his material is not appropriate for instructional use. It does not meet our instructional objectives."
The guitar-playing Polisar, who lives in Silver Spring with his wife and 3 1/2-year-old twins, said of the Anne Arundel ban, "It's not like I need the work. I'm kept pretty busy with two to three hundred concerts" a year around the country.
"I'm more concerned that a whole population in a neighborhood that's very close will now be denied access to my materials." He has performed two or three times a year in Anne Arundel schools, he said, since the start of his career.
Though some bookstores, toy stores and children's catalogues won't stock or sell his material, Polisar said he knows of no other school system that has acted so "overtly" to protect its students from his work.
Horner said that "the door is still open" to Polisar to resubmit his material for use in county schools and that a grievance procedure exists for an appeal of the committee's decision.
Polisar said he probably would not appeal. "My sense is that it is final."