Robert J. B. Wilson, 1933 - 2004, photo from 1975
Long, long, long ago - 1979, to be exact - when I was but a wee lad in high school in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, the public school board solicited requests for "textbook selection reconsideration," a warm, fuzzy euphemism for book banning.
As I recall, there had been complaints in the local newspaper about the books used in some high school classes. Most of the complaints were about the use of Peter Benchley's novel Jaws in Grade 11 English. There was at least one very steamy passage in the book which did not make it into the movie.
The school board provided a Reconsideration of Textbook Selection form to give concerned tax-paying citizens the opportunity to explain why they thought a certain book should be removed from the curriculum, or at least limited to older students.
My father, Robert J.B. Wilson, pictured left, submitted one such form requesting that The Winston Canadian Dictionary for Schools be removed from circulation. His request is recreated below, followed by somewhat legible scans of the one remaining photocopy.
All I ask is that you read his submission in full before forming an opinion of the author.
|The Lambton County Board of Education|
|Ratepayer's Request: Reconsideration of Textbook Selection|
The Winston Canadian Dictionary for Schools
Holt, Rinehart, Winston and Beelzebub of Canada, Ltd., Toronto
Request Initiated by:
R. J. B. Wilson
1. Nature of the objection (be specific, cite pages):
An uncountable number of unacceptable words, of which B*st*rd (p. 45), ev*l*t**n (p. 208), excr*m*nt (p. 210), f**c*s (p. 217), p*n*s (p. 457), s*x (p. 583) and v*g*n* (p. 715) are just a few examples. These are so horrible that you will understand that I cannot write them in full. To expose young minds to such filth is surely to corrupt them for life and to damn them for eternity; Better no 'education' at all than this.
2. Have you read the entire book?
Of course not.
3. What is your impression of the book as a whole?
This book is entirely devoid of either plot or characterization. Words such as those above are liberally (of course!) distributed throughout the volume simply because, if only in the minds of a few demented degenerates, they happen to exist. If this were not enough, to avoid any possibility of misinterpretation, these words are carefully defined. To what depths of depravity has our educational system descended when such words as these are literally flaunted in the faces of the tender, young minds of our young, tender and, were it not for 'education', angelic children?
4. If you have not read the entire book, what parts have you read?
To keep my mind pure, I have tried to read only clean words whose definitions I required. However, the dirty words have a Satanic attraction, a hypnotic quality that draws my eyes back to them time and again. Is there something special in the ink used to print these particular words, or can it be that I myself am already corrupted past redemption?
5. Why have you read these parts only?
To see for myself the corruption that is being forced down the tender young throats of our children.
6. What is your objection to these parts?
That such linguistic, communistic monstrosities should sully the tender young ears of our young tender children would be unthinkable in any civilized society. I demand that this book be immediately withdrawn until all words that could possibly cause corruption are expunged.
7. What is your understanding of the theme of the entire book?
DIRTY WORDS! DIRTY, DIRTY, DIRTY, DIRTY WORDS!!! UGH!!!
8. Assuming that the text is a novel, play, or any piece of fiction, what characters did you dislike? Why?
The letter 'F' should be expelled from the alphabet. The WORST WORD IN THE UNIVERSE starts with this evil letter. If that letter were gone, then so would the word and, with this, the thought. What a victory it would be if such thoughts no longer sullied the tender young minds of our young tender children.
9. What characters did you like? Why?
Simple, clean-lined characters such as 'o' and 'I' are particularly attractive.
10. Can you list any values this book might have over and above your objections to it?
This is an excellent dictionary and I have no objection whatever to it's use. The nonsense I have written in the preceding sections I have tried to make so absurd that it's humourous intent would be evident to even the meanest intelligence. However, just in case I have overestimated the mental equipment or good faith of some readers, I am including this caveat that none of the above answers are to be taken seriously.
11. For what age group would you recommend this book?
12. In textbook selections, the judgements of literary critics are taken into account. Are you aware of any judgements literary critics may have made on this particular book?
Would you recommend a substitute book which, in your judgement, would convey as valuable a picture and perspective of our civilization, and is of equal literary quality?
In the final analysis, what would you like our school system to do about the book?
(CIRCLE APPROPRIATE RESPONSE)
a) Do not assign it to my child.
b) Withdraw it from all students.
c) Assign it to a more senior class.
d) Keep the text where it is now, but take my objections into account and keep them in perspective any time the book is used.
e) In light of the objections stated, reconsider the decision as to the use of this book.
f) Use as before <added by the author>
Signed: R. J. B. Wilson
Dated: March 31, 1979
I don't know if the school board seriously considered removing textbooks, or whether they were holding consultations just so that they could say they were listening to the concerns of the public. Regardless, no textbooks were removed from the curriculum or assigned to a more senior class as a result of these consultations.
But the point is moot. My father's submission stole the show, and made a mockery of the whole process. That was, of course, his intent.
Robert J. B. Wilson: skilled scientist; awesome chess player; devout trouble maker; wonderful dad. We really miss him.
All during his retirement, my father maintained a webpage on which he pontificated about his favourite subjects: philately, religion, science, and family history. My mum (until her passing in October 2018) and I keep it available, pretty much unchanged since his death in 2004: www.rjbw.net