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IS CENSORSHIP ON RISE IN SCHOOLS? DEPENDS ON THE PERSON ANSWERING

QUESTION: According to People For The American Way, a liberal Washington think tank, more and more parents and religious groups are putting pressure on schools to ban books they personally deem offensive from public school libraries and curricula. Is censorship on the rise in public schools?

BONNIE ERBE: It's no surprise, given the current political climate, that the religious right feels more comfortable attacking literature. When "the two Pats" (Buchanan and Robertson) are given free rein to address a major party convention, can the book-burnings - "Fahrenheit 451" - be far behind?According to People For The American Way, assaults on materials used by public school children reached a 10-year high during the 1991-92 school year. Would-be censors tried 376 times to ban library books or textbooks.

This is not to say that some parents don't have legitimate concerns about what their children are reading at school. Some local boards of education seem to play brinksmanship in selecting overly "sophisticated" (i.e., scary or sexually explicit) materials for students. And parents who protest when their children are required to read offensive material have a worthy point.

What is troublesome is the rising number of incidents attacking classic American literature and the attempts to ban it from public school programs.

When parents want a say in what their children are reading, they are on solid ground. When the religious right succeeds in using censorship as a back-door means of injecting God and their own religion into the public schools, we all have reason to worry.

BETSY HART: For a generation, the battle cry of the liberal left was "question authority." But when parents question the authority over their children's education, they are branded "censors." This is especially egregious given the liberals' own history of censorship.

In the name of "political correctness" the left has eagerly endorsed assaults on the First Amendment on America's college campuses, including limits on all manner of offensive speech and even "inappropriately directed laughter."

People for the American Way itself asked Alabama to ban a science book because it questioned evolution. PAW's cry of "censorship" makes one wonder - who is censoring whom?

People for the American Way has the arrogance to suggest that it, or a school bureaucrat, can override parental objections, reasonable or not, and tell parents what their children will read. Even if, as is more and more common in today's curricula, the objection is over books that contradict the moral or religious lessons being taught in the home.