his might be a good time to mention the irony of how
many times the people who elect themselves as censors
or the conscience of education turn out to have feet
of clay, never mind dirty hands. The epitome of this
is former Secretary of Education William
Bennett. A self-proclaimed
authority on family values and virtues (The
Book of Virtues),
Bennett set himself up as an authority on what is right
for kids and families to read. No problem there.
But then Bennett
turned out to have one of the Beltway's healthier gambling
habits, losing more than $8 million in Vegas over a decade
(including $550,000 in one weekend at the Bellagio).
But it wasn't the slot-habit alone that made Bennett
a hypocrite. As
Frank Rich pointed out in The
New York Times(Arts & Leisure,
May 18, 2003, "Tupac's Revenge on Bennett"),
his track record for double-standards is a lot better
than his record for beating the odds on The Strip:
When Bennett excoriated Time
Warner for its promotion of "gangsta
rap," he somehow forgot to mention his own contract
with Time Warner's "Book of the Month Club" that
netted him six figures.
Bennett and Newt Gingrich were
among of the loudest critics of public television
as a waste of public tax dollars but he later
grabbed more than a few of those public dollars when
he sold his Book of Virtues to PBS
as a cartoon series.
Twenty years after he was happy
to win a $970,000 grant for the National Humanities
Center in North Carolina when he was its local director,
he was joining the conservative chorus in calling for
its demise, finally knocking down the fund by one-third.
When he went before
Congress to excoriate the various media moguls who
allow violence and depravity to flourish in our society,
how is it he failed to mention Rupert
Fox network consistently seeks the bottom of the
cultural food chain? Yes, Murdoch's team at Fox News
backs Bennett's political party all the way. Why bite the hand that feeds thee?
and test censors
takes its personal liberties to the extreme that
Texas does, which is always "bigger
and better" than anywhere/anyone else. Texas, however,
wants to make sure you're not free to write or read what
some of its "select" citizens feel
is inappropriate, false, or just plain disagreeable.
With that in mind, the state has created the most extreme
textbook adoption process in America.
And since it's the
largest purchaser of school texts in the U.S., the Longhorn
state is the tail that wags the textbook dog. A host
of extreme political and religious conservatives have
hijacked the Texas process in recent years and their
reasonings and strategies are described in "Textbook
Publishers Learn: Avoid Messing With Texas," by
Alexander Stille (The
New York Times, June 29, 2002, p. 1, A19). The article prompted one Texas history professor
(University of Dallas) to write the following letter
to The Times:
should not overly fret that students in Texas
are being deprived of a full and accurate account
of American history.
Under Texas law, all students
are required to take two semesters of American
history if they attend a state-supported community
college, college or university.
the opportunity to cover and analyze the material
that was left out of high school textbooks.
college students usually find it refreshing to
read and learn about the history that was kept
— STEPHEN G. RABE
Dallas, June 29, 2002
The above letter
leaves one to conclude that the majority of Texas students,
those not attending college, will remain in the land
of ignorance when it comes to the issues censored by
the Texas Taliban.
And then there is the 2010 fiasco when the Texas State
Board, in trying to winnow down the list of books for
their social studies curriculum, yanked the work of beloved
children's author Bill Martin Jr. for being pro-Communist?
Who said such a thing? Well, someone "heard" that he'd
written a Marxist book . . . It turns out they had the
wrong "Martin" but not before the author of the "Brown
Bear, Brown Bear" series got the boot. (The AP story
detailing the events can be found here at Brown
Bear.) Poor Texas — they keep writing a curriculum that
reads like a script for a sitcom that has "Send in the
Clowns" for its theme song.
of groups like the Texas Taliban has been profiled
in Dr. Diane Ravitch's acclaimed The
Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What
Students Learn (Knopf,
2003). Ravitch is by no means a liberal
or progressive, having served as an Assistant Secretary
of Education in George H. W. Bush's administration
and holds the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the
Brookings Institution. When The
Wall St. Journal reviewed
this book, it had this to say:
has magnified the influence of activists is the hopelessly
corrupt way that textbooks and tests are produced.
Classroom materials have become the almost exclusive
domain of mammoth corporations like McGraw-Hill, Pearson,
Reed Elsevier and Vivendi, whose prime concern, Ms.
Ravitch shows, is not to educate but to avoid controversy.
Texts are composed by committees of nonspecialists
who go light on words and heavy on graphics and who
do everything with an eye to the political vagaries
of Texas and California . . ."
by Gary Rosen Wall St. Journal, April 22, 2003, p. D8
In contrast to the
procedures of the Texas education establishment, the
democratic way is to provide open and fair hearings
to anyone expressing a concern about the appropriateness
of certain literature for children but the hearing
board must be balanced and autonomous enough to prevent
community bullying or hijacking.
As we've seen
throughout history and currently in the Middle and
Far East, extremism in pursuit of even religious goals
invariably leads us down a one-way street to anarchy
from which no one escapes unscathed. Had such hearings
been available to black and Jewish groups in the U.S.
during the first half of the twentieth century, many
racial and cultural injustices could not have been
perpetuated and reinforced in the literature of American
classrooms and libraries.
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