Pray that our dictionaries, encyclopedias escape the maelstrom

Published 1:13 pm Friday, January 12, 2024

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Years from now someone will look back on the history of Florida, assuming one is written, and think how fortunate that our state didn’t get sucked into one of those policy-making whirlpools that resulted in book banning. Maybe.

This week, there was news out of Florida that a school district there had removed dictionaries from circulation for review.

Now, banning books is probably one of the dumbest things a government can do to “protect our children.” From what? Bad things. What bad things? You know, bad stories about stuff like, well, sex and bodies. Oh, you mean the stuff they can watch and read about on their smartphones that their parents gave them?

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The Escambia County School District in Florida’s panhandle pulled multiple dictionaries and reference books off its library shelves over summer break for review. The books were kicked to the curb for including descriptions of “sexual conduct” in violation of the state law restricting any sexual content in the schools’ learning resources. 

Five different types of dictionaries, eight encyclopedias and The Guinness Book of World Records were removed.

Encyclopedias. Imagine that. My mother, who couldn’t afford to buy clothes for four kids and instead made them on her foot-pedal-driven Singer sewing machine, somehow managed to buy the kids a set of World Book Encyclopedias. She was a Bible thumper and an encyclopedia hugger at the same time, so apparently it can be done.

I bet I wore the skin off my fingertips going through our Encyclopaedia Britannica 24-volume set when I was growing up, when I wasn’t studying the Sears catalog’s summer fashion for women section. Although we were as poor as a church mouse, those reference books made me feel important. They made me feel like we counted, that we had some powerful treasure in our home because we could grab one of those volumes and be transported to just about anywhere in the world and learn about other cultures, people, places and historical events.

For example, we can learn from an encyclopedia that a whirlpool forms a downdraft, dragging objects deep below the surface. This creates a trap well and holds objects there that can only emerge if they can float and bob back to the surface. The most dangerous ones are called maelstroms. 

So let’s hope, maybe even pray, that our beloved Isothermal Belt can protect us from these Florida maelstroms otherwise known as book bans.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at