This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, January 28, 1998

January 28, 1998 - My Cat and School Videos

I once had a cat named Watson. When both of us were young, I saw her do two things that pretty much define the problems of life, and perhaps of both librarianship and education.

The first case I witnessed when I happened to glance out the kitchen window of my Airstream trailer. I was living in the middle of the Sonoran desert at the time. I saw Watson slinking along, low to the ground. She was obviously hunting. So I scanned ahead of her position to see what she was after. It was a rattlesnake.

"She's doomed!" I thought. I jumped toward the door, but it was too late. Watson pounced. And her teeth closed precisely on the snake's rattle. Fascinated, I froze.

The snake bucked up, clearly in shock. Watson chomped. Chomped. Rallying, the snake whirled around, stretched its jaws, and struck.

With ghastly calm, without even lifting her head, Watson smacked the snake across the face. She didn't even extend her claws. The snake reared back, dazed. Chomp. Chomp. Another attempt at a strike, another smack. A few moments later, the snake was ... gone.

This filled me with new respect for my cat. But it didn't last.

Less than a week later, I was lying at the prow of the trailer, just reading. I became aware that Watson, and her brother Pookalure, were staring intently above me. So I looked up, too.

And there, langorously traversing the arc of the ceiling, was an enormous, very hairy spider. Abruptly, it dropped to the floor.

Desperately afraid that her brother would get it first, Watson made a mad scramble. Gulp. Then she sat back, almost smug.

Then something began to happen. She squirmed. Her eyes widened. Then she opened her mouth as if to say something AND THE SPIDER RAN OUT.

Now what can we learn from these events?

In the first case, sometimes utter boldness is the way to go. We have within us the capacity to triumph over danger, to ingest and even thrive on things that are clearly poisonous.

In the second case, in the name of competition with our peers, we sometimes make grievous errors in judgment. We take into ourselves things that won't stay put.

This pretty well stakes out the issues regarding the Douglas County School Board's recent stand on R-rated movies. The question: are such movies venomous (but edible) snakes? Or harmless (but deeply unsettling) arachnids?

Parents deal with the same issues at home. Will this book be all right for my child? Or will it terrify? If it does terrify, is it a useful lesson?

Books that many people in this country label as poisonous, as leading young people to evil, I found illuminating. Take another school district controversy, the book "Grendel." Grendel seemed to me an utterly tragic figure, the tale of a man who believed that God had rejected him. The book taught me to have compassion for the alienated, to look for the deeper truth.

Other books, "Total Woman" by Mirabelle Morgan, for instance (published around the same time as "Grendel"), seemed utterly innocuous. Morgan recommended that the way for a woman to forge a deep spiritual bond with her mate was to greet him at the door, at day's end, after draping herself only in Saran Wrap.

It was like the spider. It didn't hurt anything, I guess, but my stomach just rebelled.

As always, I take comfort in the fact that neither censorship nor self-righteousness stands a prayer. Some fine films with a powerful educational message get branded with Hollywood's "R." Children (meaning those people who in previous civilizations would already be considered adults, certainly old enough to have children of their own) will probably find these movies anyhow.

Meanwhile, there are many books -- and many teachers, for that matter -- whose bland safety serves only to bore and irritate otherwise fine minds. Our children will probably survive that, too.

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