by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Don't join the book burners. Don't think you're going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed."... ...Dwight David Eisenhower.
Commentary of the Day - October 19, 2002: Censors and Scissors. Guest commentary by Beverly Carol Lucey.
Folks, just plain folks, in the true democratic fashion that we so dearly uphold in this country, are strangling the life out of school curricula across the country by reviewing textbooks and ramming their special agendas through a confused set of parents, school boards, and curriculum committees.
With the increasing complexity and confusions of the world as we know it in this new century comes a need among many to "simplify, simplify." While this impulse may be understandable, it can be anathema to teachers of literature, history, and science.
BOTH SIDES OF THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM ARE AT FAULT
This determination to play it safe and hide behind tradition, coupled with another understandable impulse coming from a perhaps radically different bias...that of the "liberal, politically correct" educated segment of our population... have inadvertently been joining forces with conservatives to white wash, if you will, reading lists and to temper the intent, even the reality, of our past.
For a variety of reasons, great and not so great works have been struck from being considered acceptable reading for young people in our schools. Our history texts show little of religion in all its warmth and brutishness.
Not only are some science teachers apprehensive about introducing the empirical evidence for evolution, even the teaching of units on the solar system have become controversial in some school districts. Apparently studying well-established astronomical facts about our galaxy is against some people's religion. Introducing "Intelligent Design" (the tarted up sister of "Creationism") was just given the go ahead in Cobb County, GA, after six months of heated debate. All that energy expended just to remind us of The Scopes Trial, and how much we've learned about logic and clear thinking in the last 80 years. Not much, apparently.
THE DIRTY 30
Books such as The Scarlet Letter, Slaughter-House 5, The Diary of Anne Frank, Grapes of Wrath, Huck Finn, and lately Harry Potter, have appeared frequently on "dirty thirty" lists for a number of different reasons. Offensive language, mature subject matter, fascination with the occult, and Anne Frank's observation that all people are God's children have caused a fuss somewhere, in some school system. Even Dr. Seuss' The Lorax was banned in a few logging communities as being too pro-environmental.
A PROBLEM WITH SENSITIVITIES
Somewhere in between these extremes lies reality and reality often makes us uncomfortable. How can Huck Finn be taught to a classroom of white students who might harbor the seeds of racism but have learned acceptable public language for the teacher's benefit. Finally they stop saying what they
learned at home: "n-----", "colored". They use "black", "African-American", "people of color", if only due to the formality of the situation or the instructor's demands.
Let some computer count the times "n-----" is used in Huck Finn. Can we teach the culture of the times that gave rise to this language? Does this repetition allow students to get comfortable with the word again?
Any teacher might well wonder if the dialogue/dialect is acceptable in material written by a black author...say, Richard Wright in Almos' a Man... because teachers are able to discuss the two voices within the work, while a white author is somehow suspect, or causes worries about feeding into the bias of a racist society.
Just as sex education has moved to an abstinence based bias instead of offering information and realistic options for young people, so have history books been rewritten to uplift rather than enlighten. Much of 20th Century Literature has disappeared in favor of the allegedly noncontroversial "classics."
Schools should be forums for unsettling exploration, not a perpetuation of comfortable, yet narrow, ideas.
©2002, Beverly Carol Lucey
The IP encourages his readers to find out if their local school boards if they have knuckled under to the demands of narrow special interests and have modified the curriculum to avoid controversial ideas. If they have, consider replacing those narrow-minded school board members with ones who have the courage to stand up to the "know nothings".
© 2002 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.