Wednesday, June 05, 2002

In the New York Times, Diane Ravitch--normally a rare voice for sanity in the largely insane world of the education academy--has attacked the bowdlerization of famous texts in the New York Regents Examination, in the name of "sensitivity". (The practice has apparently now been abolished.) I understand her motivation; it's unfortunate that students are deemed too delicate to read various quite harmless passages from great works of literature because somebody, somewhere, lodged a far-fetched complaint of "offensiveness". But the problem with today's schools--as Ravitch herself would probably admit--is not that students are exposed only to sanitized versions of classic writings; it's that too few students are exposed to such writings at all, because they're crowded out by meaningless, mind-numbing or play-like "activities" and crass political propagandizing masquerading as education. Even after the censor's scissors have done their work, there is still a great deal of learning to be had from the masterpieces in question, and teaching them in that form would, for most students, be a massive improvement over the pap they're currently getting. Moreover, the precedent is a valuable one; if politically correct sensitivities must be respected when choosing materials to present to students, then perhaps more respect will be given as well to the sensitivities of those who oppose pseudoscience, or creationism, or political propaganda of the right or left (or the center, for that matter), or any of a host of other, more immediate threats to education that are constantly being insinuated into the modern classroom.

It is true that if nearly everyone has a veto over what is taught in the schools, then the curriculum will be more limited than it might otherwise be. But it most likely will continue to include the basics, at least, while excluding a lot of the junk that gets in today. And if what's left doesn't even reach the level of a rudimentary, bare-bones curriculum, then at least we'll know that there lacks a solid social consensus in favor of one--and if that's the case, then public education is probably doomed in any event.

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