The baseball and basketball seasons eventually end, but it's always open season on books for young readers. In Peoria this month, three novels by Judy Blume have been removed from school library shelves. The American Library Association recommends her books because of their "realistic portrayal of young people's problems"; and more to the reading point, kids recommend those books for themselves. Especially girls, for Blume often writes about girls who feel left out, at home or at school, or both. And she writes about youngsters who have heard reports that there is something called sex in the universe. That's what gets her into trouble.
Blume's work is often censored, but her rap sheet is not nearly so long as that of the notorious recidivist, Huck Finn. Last summer, Huck was again kicked off a required reading list, this time in the schools of Waukegan, Ill. An alderman, charging that the novel is offensive to blacks, had threatened a lawsuit or a student boycott. The school board caved in, a lesson in intellectual freedom that will not be lost on the watching children.
Not that American school officials are unique in their reading-comprehension problems concerning "Huckleberry Finn." The Inner London Education Authority is currently ordering all its employees, including non-teachers, to take "race consciousness" courses. In one of those courses, certain books are condemned for their infectious racism. One of them is "Huckleberry Finn." Well, Huck never did think he and "sivilization" had much in common.
In any case, if Britian can have at so indigenous an American as Mr. Finn, it may please certain patriots here that the largest textbook publisher in this nation has been bowdlerizing Will Shakespeare. The cleansing of the Bard came to light in July when Wendy Tai of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune reported a parent's complaint that an abridged "Romeo and Juliet" in their high school son's English class turned out to be expurgated as well. An accompanying teacher's guide, however, pledged that no language had been altered.
The publisher is Scott, Foresman, and the anthology containing the bleached love story is "ARRANGEMENT in Literature." Arrangement, indeed. Gone is Juliet's aria: "Spread thy close curtain, love- performing Night/That runaway's eyes may wink and Romeo/Leap to these arms untalk'd of and unseen." No longer is Romeo impatient to "lie" with Juliet. Cooled down by Scott, Foresman, he wants only to "be" with her.
The publisher admitted that the teacher's guide was in error. Words had been altered. And the Minneapolis high school told its teachers to inform the students that there is more to "Romeo and Juliet" than meets the innocent eye in this smoothly arranged Scott, Foresman anthology. But as for those who felt injury had been done to young Montague and Capulet, the president of the firm, Richard Morgan, instructed reporter Wendy Tai that Scott, Foresman publishes for a national market. And some regions, he said, may take more kindly to certain kinds of editing, as he put it, than other regions. "One person's selection," Morgan helpfully added, "is another person's censorship."
Meanwhile, however, Scott, Foresman's decorous version of "Romeo and Juliet" is still being used in schools around the country. Accordingly, complaints keep coming to the attention of Barbara Parker, the resident scourge of censors at People for the American Way. Parker put the news into her "Censorship Bulletin," and Scott, Foresman began to hear from increasing numbers of angry folks who believe that bowdlerization is a mortal, rather than a merely venial, sin, especially when committed by an educator of the young.
When I reached Richard Morgan, the president of Scott, Foresman, he was clearly aware of some displeasure out there about what his firm had done to the bards' bard. Noting that he had only been president for nine months, Morgan, after some intriguing soft-shoe dancing, allowed as how he felt that altering words in such a classic was "inappropriate" and he implied that the firm would not "edit" that way again.
But letters continue to be sent to Morgan by professors of English and by high school teachers asking for a formal, unequivocal declaration by Scott, Foresman that it is going out of the expurgation business. The answers I have seen to these letters are not by Morgan, but by an editorial vice president in Secondary Language Arts, Jane Bachman, who responds (and this is her answer in its entirety):
"Thank you for your letter about one of our high school literature books, which contains 'Romeo and Juliet.' Richard Morgan forwarded your letter to me.
"I appreciate knowing your views and your taking the time to write to us."