McCarthyism in Miami Schools

I haven’t read the book, but from descriptions others have provided of it, I’d be absolutely livid if I took the time to read Vamos a Cuba. What makes me even angerier is that they’ve just banned it at all Miami-Dade County school libraries. Here’s a clip from the AP story on the topic:

In a 6-3 vote, board members decided the book Vamos a Cuba, or A Visit to Cuba, was inappropriate for young readers because of inaccuracies and omissions.

“A book that misleads, confounds or confuses has no part in the education of our students, most especially elementary students, who are most impressionable and vulnerable,” said board member Perla Tabares Hantman, who supported the June 14 ban.

The school district owns 49 copies of the book in Spanish and English. The father of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas Elementary School student complained in April about the book’s depiction of life under communist rule.

Appeals to a previous school-board ruling keeping the book in the school’s library were amended to ban the book in all 33 schools in the district. Superintendent Rudy Crew had suggested parental consent be required for borrowing the book, or that a sticker on the cover advise parents of the book’s weaknesses.

The ACLU is fighting the ban:

Board member Robert Ingram said he only supported the ban out of fear for his family’s safety and to invite a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“There’s a passion of hate,” Ingram said. “I can’t vote my conscience without feeling threatened “” that should never happen in this community any more.”

The ACLU of Florida was preparing a legal challenge to the ban, Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement.

“Today’s precedent “” if allowed to stand “” opens the door to yank virtually any book off the shelf of a school library at the whim of a single parent and a school board judgment that there is some inaccuracy or omission in a book,” Simon said. “The fight for freedom in Cuba cannot be waged as a war on the First Amendment in Miami.”

An op-ed supporting the ban surprisingly provided the following quote:

If all books containing inaccuracies were banned, there would be only one left on the shelves — the dictionary — and even that would be subject to debate. Life evolves, and nothing remains static. No book remains 100 percent accurate over a lifetime.

It never ceases to amaze me that in combatting communism many resort to communism’s tactics. The School Board has opened a Pandora’s box. The members who voted to remove Vamos a Cuba should be ashamed.

Joseph McCarthy is attributed with, “McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled.”

I’m merely wondering if those sleeves are rolled up to conceal some swazika emblazoned armband.

Stephen Gordon

I like tasteful cigars, private property, American whiskey, fast cars, hot women, pre-bailout Jeeps, fine dining, worthwhile literature, low taxes, original music, personal privacy and self-defense rights -- but not necessarily in this order.

  1. This is a problem because the government controls the schools and libraries. The government shouldn’t be deciding what or what not a child is exposed to. To me, both the book banners and the people who want the book to remain are the same.

    And all these people in the news whining about the first amendment need to tell me where government provided education is in the constitution. Government education is a way bigger infringement on peoples’ freedom than some damn childrens book.

    I’d just assume let the government schools go to hell in a hand basket so we can get rid of them.

  2. Wait, so you want children to be able to read a book that says that communism works and that Fidel Castro is a saint?

    No wonder so many socialists exist, they’re all being politically subsidized by the libertarians.

  3. If libertarians claim to be against socialism and the total state, then why are they allowing copies of Das Kapital and the Mao’s Little Red Book to be read at junior high schools?

    I see nothing wrong with the school district removing the books and preventing the use of tax money to fund the spread of more socialst ideals into young, impressionable heads.

    I don’t know if people here would consider me “unprincipled,” for saying this – but if forced/tax funded public schooling must exist, then I’d rather have it not promote Marxism.

    Maybe if schools had more copies of “The Road to Serfdom” and “For a New Liberty” instead of Das Kapital and Mao’s Little Red Book we could actually use the public schools to create more libertarian thinkers and maybe pull this country out of the public education disaster.

  4. Side note: my junior high school did in fact have copies of Marx’s and Mao’s books.

    I also had to do a biographical report on Leon Trotsky in 7th grade. It scarred me for life.

  5. Chris Kaplan:

    “Why are libertarians allowing […]?”

    I’ll answer that in a way few others likely will:

    If a given person in our nation isn’t free to willfully enslave themselves to another person, then no person in this country is free.

    Because someone else is telling them what to do with their own times and lives.

    *THAT* is why said things need to be permitted.

    “It isn’t a principle until it costs you something you care about.” — Me.

  6. Privatization of education is the answer to this and many similar dilemmas. Of course that’s one of the first of the ‘kooky’ ideas the ‘reformers’ want to toss overboard.

    I’m bewildered by the suggestion that this is a First Amendment issue. Does the First Amendment require that every public school library be a super Library of Congress, containing a copy of every book ever written in the English language? Obviously choices have to be made, and being full of errors is a good reason for a given book not to make the cut.

  7. DT,

    Despite the claims that others make, I’m not the reformer (with respect to most platform issues) that is often claimed by others. To be sure, one of the key reasons I left the GOP years ago is because they dropped the plank calling for the elimination of the Department of Education.

    I am a reformer in the sense that I think we need to maximize the political message while adhering to principles. My focus is on politics, without sacrificing principles.

    I considered both the government education and the censorship issues before writing this. I’m not scared to write about education issues, here’s one of many examples (the target was Republicans for that essay and it mostly went to state newspapers and websites). However, I thought I might better connect with a non-libertarian reader in this case with the 1A issue as there are less arguments required to win the case. The audience on this site (we attract a fair amount of liberals) is less Republican, so I took the approach I think might work best here.

  8. DT,

    Also note the first sentence: “I haven’t read the book, but from descriptions others have provided of it, I’d be absolutely livid if I took the time to read Vamos a Cuba.”

    I’m clearly not supportive of the likely content of the book.

  9. What about private schools? Should they have the right to ban reading material and control what is taught? I say yes to both. The problem is not book banning (which I believe should occur when it is outright propaganda or pornography being forced on minors)but the fact that education is controlled by the government and not by the parents as it should be.

  10. Julian,

    I have no problem with a private school banning anything they want. I applaud that, actually.

    However, a government that can ban what books my taxes fund can also ban what I say on the airwaves or establish free speech zones. The obvious problem is the government, but as long as something is controlled by the government, one political idea should not be favored over another.

  11. 1) This is par for the course in Miami. These are, after all, the same people who think the cause of freedom is best served by letting no one but themselves control all discussion and decisions regarding US policy in Cuba. They’ve bombed (private) galleries which wanted to show Cuban art, and forced cancellation of performances by Cuban musicians organized by private impresarios–all because those artists and musicians, for one reason or another (which may or may not include support of the Communist regime) choose not to exile themselves from Cuba. You’re getting a glimpse of what Cuban politics was like in the ’50s.
    2) My best bit of education in American civic ideals was a high school course mandated by the state (probably a relic of the 1950s–this was in the mid-70s) called Americanism v. Communism. Our teacher had us read the Communist Manifesto, and then went through it pointing out all the flaws. So it’s not a problem to teach Marx: it’s how he’s taught!

  12. David and Brian,

    I agree that government schools are the ultimate problem. This does not change the government censorship aspect of this case under the current political climate. Both are abhorent.

    Do you think that we should disregard censorship issues during this period of time the government has imposed compulsory education?

    Anyway, good debate, but I’ve got to get a couple of hours sleep before I drive back to DC. I’ve been off for a few days getting my car and bringing another load of personal stuff to Washington. I’ll try to check back in Sunday or Monday night.

  13. “So it’s not a problem to teach Marx: it’s how he’s taught!”

    Public schools being the collectivist entities that they are, tend to attract teachers who are frequently on the redistributionist-left (social democrats all the way up to Maoists.)

    The teachers use their authority and access to a captive audience to indoctrinate their students on the finer points of capitalistic oppression and the inevitability of the triumph of Communism. Marx, instead of being written off as a kook who mooched off his friend Engels is now idolized as a revolutionary figure by millions of high school students.

  14. Stephen, I might get alarmed if they were actually banning this book completely. But, with taking the book out of the schools, I don’t really care much either way.

    The flip side of the “mccarthyism” coin is that the government forces material on children that parents might not agree with and the first amendment is the pretext they use, even though this is completely different than the the first amendment’s original purpose. Plus my money, stolen by the government, is going to be used to pay for whatever the special interest groups decide should be put into the schools/libraries.

    Either way, people are getting screwed.

  15. Schools across the nation have constantly restricted children in how the children could express themselves. There have been restrictions regarding the school newspaper, the books available in the school library, the clothes to wear and the pledges to recite.

    So, do children have rights that are the same as adults?

  16. >Stephen Gordon: I agree that government schools are the ultimate problem. This does not change the government censorship aspect of this case under the current political climate.

    David Tomlin: One thing I want to be very clear about: At this point, I don’t just disagree with your position. I don’t entirely understand what your position is.

    Since library space is limited, someone must decide what books to stock, and by implication what books not to stock. When the library is a public facility administered by the government, whether it’s a school library or a regular public library, the decision-maker must be an officer or agent of the government.

    Your position seems to be that it is appropriate for some officers to make these judgments, but not others. When the ‘wrong’ officers make the choice, it’s banning/censorship.

    What I’m not clear on is which officers are which, and the underlying reason for the distinction. The school board is wrong. Who’s right? The librarians?


  17. [Continued]

    Are the school librarians the only government employees who can choose the books without it being banning/censorship? What about principals? What about taking a vote of the whole faculty of a school? Is a school board decision banning/censorship because it affects more than one school? What’s the overall logic here?

    I hope I’ve made clear why I don’t understand your position, and what kind of information would help clarify it.

    I’ll start another comment to explain my own position.

  18. Libertarians would want to allow that book to be in schools because in doing so it is libertarian. People should be able to read whatever book they please. Are ‘textbooks’ completely accurate? How accurate is the Bible?

    Or we could be like the Nazis and just burn most books to the ground.

    I like that op-ed that says people trying to get rid of communist books are using communist tactics by getting rid of them. Doesnt that just explain our country to a ‘T’.

  19. The First Amendment is supposed to keep the government from restricting my communication (to a first approximation, ignoring complications like defamation, obscenity, etc.), when I communicate using my own lawfully acquired and owned resources. The 1stA doesn’t require the government to provide me with any resources for communicating, such as a bullhorn, or a printing press, or a radio station.

    Space on a bookshelf is just such a resource. The 1stA doesn’t require the government to provide anyone with bookshelf space. When a government-run library declines to stock a book, no one’s 1stA rights are violated. Period.

    I’m wrong? OK. Show me where.

  20. If I am wrong about this issue, that doesn’t make me a Nazi. That insinuation is not only offensive, it’s asinine. In my opinion it reflects badly on the LP.

  21. If it is a public library then I think the public should decide, not the government. WE own that library. WE own the school. The government is OUR bitch, not the other way around…. how has it felt lately?

    I would agree that if it is a private library then it is different.

    I am disgusted by anything written with a Republican or a Democratic point of view. I feel that those fascist/socialist beliefs have taken our country to where it is now. Should all of those books be taken off the shelf for the same reason? Though the book in this article only seemed to be about life in Cuba. Im not sure because I havent read it, but it doesnt seem like anything to censor.

    David, Im not sure who called YOU a Nazi.

  22. From Wikipedia(

    Nazi times

    After 1933, it was, like all German universities, transformed into a Nazi educational institution. It was from the University’s library that some 20,000 books by “degenerates” and opponents of the regime were taken to be burned on May 10 of that year in the Opernplatz (now the Bebelplatz) for a demonstration protected by the SA that also featured a speech by Joseph Göbbels. A monument to this can now be found in the center of the square, consisting of a glass panel opening onto an underground white room with empty shelf space for 20,000 volumes and a plaque, bearing an epigraph from an 1820 work by Heinrich Heine: “Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen” (“That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they ultimately burn people”). Jewish students and scholars and political opponents of Nazis were ejected from the university and often deported and killed.

  23. David,

    I got back late, did some more moving after a long drive, did an obligatory (and not that great) blog entry, answered a few comments, but am too tired to deal with your tougher ones at the moment.

    I can answer this one easily, though. Unless you are a fan of J. McCarthy or ban books (outside of your home or property), the Nazi comment certainly wasn’t aimed at you. Not sure why you thought it might have been.

    Will try to address the rest of the debate tomorrow. Got to get a few hours sleep.

  24. >Stephen Gordon: Unless you are a fan of J. McCarthy or ban books (outside of your home or property), the Nazi comment certainly wasn’t aimed at you. Not sure why you thought it might have been.

    David Tomlin: In my first reply I wrote, ‘Obviously choices have to be made, and being full of errors is a good reason for a given book not to make the cut.’

    Do you mean to say that the insult only applies to those who have the authority to make the decision, and not to those who merely agree with and support it? That’s not logical, since ‘Nazi’ is an ideological classification.

    Of course I personally wasn’t on your mind when you wrote ‘I’m merely wondering if those sleeves are rolled up to conceal some swazika[sic] emblazoned armband.’ But I count myself among the people you accuse.

  25. Does anyone think that, if a school librarian stocked a book of Holocaust revisionism, liberals wouldn’t raise hell and demand some other authority reverse the decision?

    Of course they would talk about ‘hate speech’, but I think the matter of accuracy would be raised also.

    I’ve wondered about school libraries stocking ‘The Bell Curve’. I googled about it and didn’t find any information one way or the other.

  26. David Tomlin: If you are in favor of banning, then you’re in league with the likes of Nazis. There, I said it.

    Either we have an open society where people are free to make their own judgements on what is proper for their own personal reading material… or we allow people like this to lead us down the slippery slope of censorship. There is no middle ground, so don’t try and play semantics about how one side is worse than the other or other nonsense.

  27. >Stephen VanDyke: If you are in favor of banning, then you’re in league with the likes of Nazis. There, I said it.

    David Tomlin: Thank you. You get points for guts, though not for brains.

    >SV: Either we have an open society where people are free to make their own judgements on what is proper for their own personal reading material . . .

    DT: Lets call people’s freedom to ‘make their own judgments on what is proper for their own personal reading material’ their FTMTOJOWIPFTOPRM.

    The people who were taxed to pay for the school library could have used that money to buy books of their choice. Their FTMTOJOWIPFTOPRM has been reduced.

    If Book A is ‘banned’ from a library to which I have access, then that reduces my FTMTOJOWIPFTOPRM if I want to read Book A.


  28. However, if book A is not ‘banned’, then it may displace Book B. If I want to read Book B and don’t want to read Book A, or even if I just prefer reading Book B to reading Book A, then the ‘ban’ on Book A increases my FTMTOJOWIPFT.

    It is not clear if ‘banning’ any particular book will increase of decrease net aggregate FTMTOJOWIPFT.

    This is an illustration of Bastiat’s famous principle of ‘what is seen and what is not seen’. The person who would prefer to read Book B should be called ‘the forgotten reader’.

  29. Stephen Van Dyke

    Is every imaginable type of printed material and pictures OK in schools from K-12 acceptable? I can think of some that should not be allowed. Can you?

  30. It occurs to me that I have been approaching this issue in entirely the wrong way, picking around the edges instead of striking to the heart. Mr. Gordon has adopted the view that for the government to decline to subsidize Activity X, is the same as depriving people of the ‘freedom’ to do X. This perverts, and thus undermines, the very idea of individual liberty.

    I’m not saying that supporting the decision of the Miami school board is the only ‘correct’ libertarian position. There might be a number of grounds for criticizing the decision, or for arguing that the authority to make such decisions should lodge elsewhere than the school board. But those grounds must be other than ‘freedom = a right to a subsidy’.

    Mr. Gordon is quite unsuited to be a spokesman for any party that calls itself ‘Libertarian’.

  31. DaveT — I thought the same thing initially. Then I realized that if you roll up a long sleeve, it can conceal a bit of cloth on the upper-arm by virtue of material dislocation!

  32. That confused me for a while too. But armbands are worn on the upper arm. Rolling up a sleeve wouldn’t normally conceal an armband, but I guess someone could roll up a sleeve in such a way as to do so.

    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.