2 April 2012
In “Banned words in New York City schools? ‘I’m with the banned,’ Part I,” we looked at five of the 50 words that are now to be banned from standardized tests: Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological); Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs; Birthday celebrations (and birthdays); Bodily functions; and Cancer (and other diseases).
But we have hardly begun our tour of the areas of life that may not be mentioned. Here are the next five:
6. Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes). Like Hurricane Katrina? It’s not clear whether tsunamis and hurricanes are the only unmentionable catastrophes/disasters or whether the censor means natural catastrophes as opposed to human-caused ones. If the latter, does that mean that New York students can be expected to know about 9/11 on a standardized test, but not New Orleans’s Katrina devastation? That reduces their worldview to something akin to a medieval village. Everyone knows what has happened in his or her own district, but no one knows what is happening a few hundred miles away.
On the bright side, the censors have gone and wasted a category. They could have put “the Internet” at #9 instead.
7. Celebrities. There is a sound judgement in here somewhere, struggling to get out. No student should be tested on the contents of checkout counter tabloids. But celebrity can also be a reward for achievement in the arts, sports, or community service. Not being expected to know about achievers who shape our culture handicaps a student. One vexation is that it may not be politically correct to say it, but New York students should be expected to know about Leonard Bernstein and Jackie Robinson, but not about just any attention seeker currently enjoying fifteen minutes of fame.
8. Children dealing with serious issues. It’s not even clear what this means. And that is a problem. In a politically correct environment, where careers are at stake over failed guesses, the only safe path is: Blandness rules, always. Also, of course, boredom.
9. Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia). Well, excuse me, but didn’t we already ban tobacco at 2? Presumably, that would include “cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia).” It’s such a vice, we say it twice? On the bright side, the censors have gone and wasted a category. They could have put “the Internet” at #9 instead.
10. Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting). From my experience working with a school board, the idea behind this ban is that lower-income families cannot afford a computer in the home. That’s debatable. During company, agency, or personal upgrades, older but still workable models can get offloaded to anyone who will just come and take one away. The politically incorrect truth is that, in many households where students are not doing well, there are TVs and cell phones but no computer—as a matter of lifestyle choice, not income. Just why students should not learn about the home computer is unclear.
Commentator Helen Whalen Cohen has this to say about the banned words,
. . . instead of focusing solely on education, schools are doing things like banning words that may cause hurt feelings. Is it really better to try to protect kids from anything that will offend them, or should we teach them how to deal with being offended instead?
Well, that second option won’t work, of course, because then schools would have to teach something. And in an increasing number of places, that is no longer really the public school’s job.
Next: Evolution is banned in New York City schools but not in Tennessee.
See also: Banned words in New York City schools? “I’m with the banned,” Part I