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Mon, Oct. 21

Marvin's Window: "Language police" take political correctness too far

I was staring out my window over the weekend trying to decide whom I should call.

But there it is right on the front page of the Miner; "senior citizens."

That term is not allowed in school textbooks or any school test because it is "offensive to older people." Do not substitute "elderly" because that is also considered offensive.

This is censorship by any definition but is not considered so by the few publishers and test companies that write, edit and print educational materials.

The practice of banning certain words and subjects in textbooks and tests is not called "censorship," even though that is obviously what it is.

Educational publishers send every piece of material to a "bias and sensitivity committee" where any word, topic or any famous author's literary passage is subject to this censorship.

The censorship began with good intentions in 1970 as a way to eliminate sexist and racial language from textbooks and tests.

Diane Ravitch, a college education historian, discovered what was happening when she was appointed to a national educational committee that reviewed test questions.

This has been going on for 30 years as the publishers have tried to avoid anything that might be objectionable to any advocacy group.

It became public a year ago when it was discovered that the New York Department of Education was rewriting passages from the works of famous authors to "clean up" language in "objectionable" passages from their books used in test questions.

While others complain about banning books in the library or trying to keep porn off the Internet, educators have been censoring the language acceptable in schools without nary a word to the rest of us.

I call that sneaky censorship.

Some of the common words the sensitivity reviewers' censor are common to the culture and part of the historical fabric of the country.

Thanksgiving and Halloween and all religious holidays have been removed from school testing language and most of the textbooks.

Ravitch's list of taboo words and topics included junk foods (like birthday cake), divorce, controversial people, disobedient children, poverty, witches, evolution (including references to dinosaurs and fossils) and sorcery.

We have moved from a country based on the idea of majority rule in a democracy with individual rights protected to this bizarre attempt to censor school texts and tests.

All to avoid hurting the feelings or biases of any group of more than two with a loudmouth and a good lawyer.

Some more words you hear most every day that must not be used include "elderly," "fat," "extremist," "Founding Fathers" (considered sexist), "craftsmanship," "snow cone" (use "flavored ice"), "busybody," "yacht" (considered elitist), "God," "Satan," or "devil."

I guess Daniel Webster's story about the man selling his soul to the devil is no longer acceptable on sexist, religious and elitist grounds.

Test questions about the blind man who climbed Mt.

McKinley, how owls hunt at night, a history of peanuts and women making quilts were thrown out.

The history of peanuts is taboo because some children are allergic to peanuts.

If you threw out any story about anything someone is allergic to, the test could be quite short of questions.

The whole exercise of policing what our children read in their textbooks and tests borders more on the insane (if that word is OK).

With what the young folks are exposed (right word) to on television, at the movies, in magazines and the Internet, what is in textbooks and tests could not make much of an impact.

I am more concerned about the craziness in a society that has been built on freedom, tolerance and diversity trying to take everything to the lowest common denominator.

This "political correctness" and defining tolerance as doing nothing that any other individual objects to is just beyond logic.

Is that why we have to turn to television "reality shows" to define reality?

Call me a "senior citizen" or "elderly." I is (sic) both.

Some of us grew up in poverty and did not like it, so we did something about it.

Now, the students cannot even use the word.

The assumption seems to be that the word on a test would turn some poor kid off and he or she could not finish the test.

I did some research and teaching about bias, sexism and racism in the classroom during my faculty days in higher education.

Censorship of textbooks and tests is not the answer.

Read "The Language Police" by Diane Ravitch.

She says get angry, let teachers decide what textbooks to use and insist that publishers and state departments of education make full disclosure of their censorship.

They make school bland and boring.

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