01.03.06

Fair and balanced censorship

Posted in Liberty, Reviews, Society at 21:54 by RjZ

Diane Ravitch was the assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education during George Bush, the senior’s administration and she worked on President Clinton’s program for national testing. During that time she the work uncovered a mystery. How was it possible that there was a wide spread, well established culture of censorship, endorsed by “textbook publishers, testing agencies, professional associations, states and the federal government.” Each party was willingly participating the censorship of every aspect education leaving an unappetizing pap as nourishment for the minds of the children young people of America the United States. The book The Language Police uncovers the mystery behind all this censorship.

Pressure from the left and the right have made it impossible to write or say anything because it will either disadvantage students or offend them. There is little research to support this theory but there is plenty of evidence that what textbook publishers write will offend parents and some academics. Take this example: Ms. Ravitch’s work on the national test yielded a reading comprehension story about Erik Weihenmayer’s climb to the top of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. “The story described the dangers of hiking up an icy mountain trail, especially for blind person.” The story was rejected because it is “demeaning to applaud a blind person for overcoming daunting obstacles.” The sensitivity panel that rejected this story as biased against people who are blind since blindness should be treated like any other physical attribute such as hair color or height.

But that’s not all. Perhaps even stranger is that the story was rejected due to regional bias. It happens in the mountains. Young people reading this story in Kansas won’t have the advantage that young people from Colorado will because they might never have seen mountains. This would put a bias on the test. In fact, test questions can’t mention anything that might be a regional bias such as deserts, forests, mountains, oceans, farms, cities. Test questions must be completely generic.

This example would be funny if Ms. Ravitch didn’t list dozens and dozens of similar examples throughout the book.

The right attacks concepts and the left attacks vocabulary. The right requires book publishers to remove all references to anything possibly considered immoral. No divorce, homosexuality, devil, witches, spirits, fairies, black magic, fighting, family decay of any kind, or children showing any signs of disobedience. It is assumed that if children see any of these things they will immediately copy this behavior and become divorced homosexuals who fought with their parents over witchcraft. Meanwhile, the left requires complete multi-cultural feminist balance. Women may not be seen raising children (fathers do that) and men may not be seen doing construction work. Boys must be shown spending time combing their hair and girls must play sports with the boys. Old people may not knit or use canes (but they can fix the roof or jog) and all careers and activities must be equally represented by all races, religions and groups (except, of course, homosexuals who may not be represented at all.)

Clearly there is nothing left in the middle. But why do the test makers and publishers put up with this? A few states control the procurement of books and education programs which has eliminated the free market system. The threat of having your new book denied by California or Texas is enough to self-censor your work, irrespective of the fact that it may not teach children anything any more.

I bounced between despair and anger as I read this book desperately hoping Ms. Ravitch would have a solution to this problem. I’ll spoil the story now because it’s important that we hear a way out.

[Spoiler]

What is to be done? According to Ravitch the strategy has three parts: competition, sunshine, and educated teachers. Competition means abolishing the procurement process and unified text book standards in states like California and Texas. These have eliminated competition among book publishers and impoverished choice for teachers and administrators who know their students best.

By sunshine, Ravitch suggests that we bring the censorship process out in the open. Right now parents have no idea that there are bias and sensitivity guidelines for publishers. Worse, the publishers are loath to provide this information to you. Instead we can create ways to expose censorship to public review. The greatest ally of censorship is ignorance. If states and publishers were required to release their guidelines on the internet for everyone to see, these ideas would hardly survive the light of day. At the minimum, grass roots organizations; people like you, me and Ms. Ravitch, can demand these guidelines and publish them on our blogs and talk about them to our friends.

Finally, educated teachers means that teachers of history should actually have taken history classes. Teachers of literature should actually have read the texts they are attempting to teach. It is bad enough that teachers are paid so little in the U.S. but it is pitiful that we allow unqualified individuals who don’t even know a good science book from a bad one to teach our children. We must, of course, trust these teachers who have actually studied their field of choice to have the wisdom to know best how to teach the students in their classes. We must let them select their own text books and format their own classes and in doing so, we might actually attract those teachers who’ve left the system because they’ve given up on their chance to make a difference in the stifling environment where the must simply parrot back what the guidelines say regardless of the feedback they receive in the classroom.

[End Spoiler]

The biggest fallacy of all this censorship is that it has any merit. Removing conflict from stories and showing Native Americans Native American People from test questions doesn’t remove them from television programs and movies. All this constant censorship assures is that books will be so boring that students will never read them and certainly remember nothing from them if they try. By avoiding controversy we teach young people that facts can change to meet their needs and that words have little power to change the world. It is not impossible for us to fight this censorship. We must be confident that children who may not be highly educated yet are not, therefore, unintelligent. Critical thinking, different ideas from competing textbooks and challenging situations in great novels will exercise young brains and build the skills need to think for themselves. Instead of teaching children what to think, it would be more effective to teach them how to think.

Oh, I am sure, if I’d have taken the time I could have sanitized even more of my writing, but even the man-on-the-street average person will get the idea. Right?

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01.02.06

Bush’s amazing year

Posted in Society at 16:43 by RjZ

Imagine a president who starts his second and final term in office with high approval ratings and a congress with his party in both the house and senate. Imagine the “political capital” he’d be able to spend. Now imagine how horribly wrong it’s gone for President Bush.

  • He tried and failed to reform social security.
  • He signed a bill to protect Terry Schaivo and demonstrated to U.S. citizens that when it comes to placating the religious right the administration can get things done in a hurry even if they spend most of their time bickering about really important things.
  • He returned from vacation early to fly over New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and then told Michael Brown the now discredited head of FEMA “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of job.” Compare this to his three visits to Florida, even handing out ice to victims, after their hurricanes. It might be because Florida’s electoral votes were so important in 2004.
  • He successfully appointed one Supreme Court justice only to retract the nomination of his lawyer because most everyone, even in his own party, seem to consider her an unqualified example of cronyism.
  • Mr. Bush has completed the year by telling us that he’s only protecting citizens from terrorism when he breaks the law and taps their phones. It’s only suspected terrorists he assures us, but the fact is, there is a legal way to do what Mr. Bush has done but he apparently considers himself above the very law he has committed to uphold.

It’s actually amazing, looking back, at just how successful George W. Bush has been at wasting his “political capital.”

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Iraq – Iran, they do sound alike, don’t they?

Posted in at 13:56 by RjZ

Ostensibly the U.S. invaded Iraq to remove the dictator of that nation. It’s hard to imagine that the hoped for result of the strategic thinkers in the administration was a religious Shi’ite government. But while President Bush continues to talk about the recently held parliamentary elections, contending that millions participated in this first democratically elected parliament in the Arab world, there is little mention of just how well the Shi’ite religious party did.

There’s nothing wrong with this per se. The Shia are the majority of the south of Iraq and once they’ve cut a deal with the Kurdish dominated north there should be little to stand in their way of being an oil rich state in southern Iraq. The Shia are also significantly more religious than the Sunni or Kurds. By example, neighboring Iran was taken over by a Shia religious theocracy once the Shah left the country. Over in Iran they’ve recently reinstated the ban on western music and the political leader announced that the Holocaust might have been a fake. The religious clerics who hold even more power in Iran than the president does just let that one go unopposed.

I don’t see any reason, necessarily why the Shia shouldn’t also be in power in Iraq; it will hopefully be the choice of the people, but it is hard to imagine that the reasoned conclusions of Vice President Dick Cheney and pals included Iraq becoming Iran Jr. It will be disappointing however if the Shia follow the same path as their Iranian counterparts limiting the rights of infidels (non-muslims) and women, controlling the media and generally openly hating the U.S. and Israel.

My tiny personal hope to come out of this mess was at least to be able to visit Iraq someday even in the possession of U.S. passport. I guess we’re not any closer to that either. Oh well, it’s only another $230,887,906,679 (click on the link for a rapidly updating number.)

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