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The 'S' Word

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This year’s winner of the highly coveted Newbery Medal, The Higher Power of Lucky, is a book you may not see on your school’s library shelves. Why? Because of one word that refers to a part of a male dog’s anatomy that’s been bitten by a snake. The book’s 10-year-old eponymous heroine, after hearing the word, thinks it sounds “like something green that comes up when you have the flu.” And on one of the many school-library-affiliated mailing lists abuzz with debate over Lucky, the reference is compared to “Howard Stern-type shock treatment.” As school librarians across the country pull the book from shelves, or threaten to, author Susan Patron claims she’s shocked by the reaction. The snakebite is based on a real-life incident involving a neighbor’s dog, she says, and a big theme in the book—aimed at 9-to-12-year-olds—is how Lucky is preparing for adulthood. Pat Scales, former chairwoman of the Newbery Award committee, says of the flap: “That’s what censors do—they pick out words and don’t look at the total merit of the book.” Perhaps that’s true, but imagine this: You’re in class, allowing your 4th, 5th, or 6th graders to read the book silently, when, suddenly, a girl raises her hand and asks, “What’s a scrotum?”

10 Comments

Better she should have written "balls"?

What a bizarre bit of censorship. You would think that 9 to 12 year olds are old enough to know the parts of the male body. The term scrotum isn't used in salacious manner. I'm surprised they didn't censor one of my more memorable childhood readings, "The Call of Bugle Ann" because it referred to female dogs as bitches -- my first exposure to the word. And I'll bet that most of this censorship is going on in the South.

What a sad commentary on the state of American elementary education in some schools.

"What's a scrotum?" sounds like a perfectly harmless thing for a student to ask when encountering scrotum as a new word. Since we don't yet require dogs to wear clothing, chances are many of the children reading this book have already seen a male dog's scrotum but don't know its scientific name. And since when are parts of the dog's (or human's!) anatomy, in scientific terms no less, bad words? I wish I could say I'm surprised by all the flap, but, as a former children's librarian in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I can't say that I am.

Now I've seen everything. People are offended by the word scrotum? Are people too embarrased to explain the parts of the anatomy correctly without shame or slang?

Are they afraid it's too "sexual"? If that's the case, 9-12 year olds in my school are talking about sex, watching sex in movies, listening to sex in their music (and they hear words a lot less likeable than scrotum...that kids have asked me to explain!) all with parental blessing, and some are even having sex... What parents should monitor are things that kids do for entertainment, and not have such a kerfuffle over a WORD...

I think people should take a step back, think about this in a mature way, and reason with the world today about what the "Problem" is. It isn't the word scrotum.

It is very telling when the writer of this article states "Perhaps that’s true, but imagine this: You’re in class, allowing your 4th, 5th, or 6th graders to read the book silently, when, suddenly, a girl raises her hand and asks, “What’s a scrotum?”"

I find it not to be a problem at all. I've been teaching for 35 years, and I expect kids to be curious and to ask questions. Knowledge is power. Knowing the correct anatomical name of a part of the body will make that student less ignorant. It is not necessary to expand on into all the other real and imagined ramifications of a body part. Simply use the opportunity to teach how to use a dictionary and move on.

Let's ask ourselves: how do we teach and model mature behavior?

As a former elementary school media specialist, I am more shocked by the fact that librarians have pulled the book from their shelves. We are supposed to be against censorship. Where are their backbones?

Like Rod, I also was taken aback by the writer's apparant discomfort at the possibility that a student might ask him to define the word "scrotum." Hello? It's in the job title: you're a TEACHER. If you're uncomfortable answering the question, perhaps you could ask a colleague who teaches anatomy and physiology to give you a few suggestions. Then, if this worst case scenario ever comes to pass, you'll be prepared. Phew! Next?

So if the "child asks what is a scrotum?" answer it sensibly, logically and then refer them to their parents.

Whenever I had a student in my class as young as 2nd grade or in older grades ask a tough question like that WHICH might provoke a parental reaction, I always answered the student with correct terminology AND THEN referred them to their parents. I always made sure I called the parents before supper time and explained the situtation so they had a heads-up. The gasps, lapses of silence, or just plain "oh!" responses allowed me to reiterate my belief that parents are the best references for answering questions like that. Incidentally, parents usually thanked me for being so fortright! After all, it isn't everyday that parents are given an OPPORTUNITY to discuss topics which they need to discuss with their child. The day their child asked that tough question was their lucky day!

Goes with the saying, "If you, as the parent, believe half of what you hear goes on at school, I, in turn, as your child's teacher will believe only half of what I hear goes on at home!" :)

I agree with earlier posts that this seems a ridiculous reaction to the word and that we should teach the definition in context. I'm not so sure where the censorhip is taking place, but other areas of this country has had its battles with censorship and they don't all begin in The South. The Puritans had their beginnings in the Eastern part of this country.

Before children read a book in class, a teacher usually goes over some of the vocabulary that the children may not know. I am sure that "scrotum" would be one of those words. Consequently, the surprise question as to the word's meaning would not arise, and if it did, it could be easily explained.

I've dealt with tougher questions than that. For instance, quite unexpectedly, a naive young female student wanted to know how do gays "do it." Before I could answer, one of the other students told her-explicity!

I'd rather explain scrotum any day.

I too have dealt with much tougher questions. I am a Biology teacher, and when the school nurse is not available to answer questions, the student come to me with questions about lesions, or blisters or various other unknown ailments. I wish some of the questions I got were as easily answered as "what is a scrotum."

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  • A Fernandez: I too have dealt with much tougher questions. I am read more
  • M Sinc: Before children read a book in class, a teacher usually read more
  • Gwen Holley: I agree with earlier posts that this seems a ridiculous read more
  • KDunn: So if the "child asks what is a scrotum?" answer read more
  • JL: Like Rod, I also was taken aback by the writer's read more

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