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Political Correctness and the New York City Schools
First, let me say that I understand that words have value and power. They have the power to motivate, forgive, encourage, and show love. I also know that words have the power to hurt, insult, and show hate. I have no objection to the trend over the last 20 years toward political correctness. Over the past 55 or so years, America has moved by leaps and bounds toward becoming a nation of personal freedom, inclusion and opportunity for all. So when a particular ethnic, racial, religious, sexual, or lifestyle group has determined that they want their group, ethics or philosophy referred to in a certain way, I respect that.
What I object to is the overuse of political correctness. Certain members of the society think we should we should ban any words or phrases that someone, somewhere, may object to. This is a common story, and we hear about this type of thing happening often.
The latest story of political correctness gone amok is from the school department of the city of New York. An attempt is being made to ban almost 50 words, phrases and concepts (See below for complete list) from the standardized state testing. It does not seem that this is a purely liberal or conservative attempt at censorship. A look at the list shows these are words and concepts that range across the political spectrum.
According to the “Request for Proposal” that is being sent out to various test makers, the school department has asked for the elimination of words or topics if “the topic is controversial among the adult population” and thus would not be suitable for the test. Also they request the elimination of words or concepts if they are bias against or for some groups.
Some of these words like Christmas, Yom Kippur and Ramadan seem to be on the list to not offend anyone who does not celebrate these holidays. The word “birthday” is on the list, so as not to offend Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not celebrate this day. Others are economic. “Television”, “home computers”, “expensive gifts, prizes, and vacations” and “homes with swimming pools,” are on the list, so not as to offend people who can’t afford these items. Terms like” divorce”, “cancer”, “poverty” and “ homelessness” are on the list to avoid any victims of these situations to feel bad.
The term “terrorism” is also on the list. It is especially surprising that this would be banned from the New York City schools tests. It is important for residents of New York City (and all of us) to know what happened on 9/11. We can never forget what happened on that day, and must work as a society, to make sure this never happens again. I understand that there may be students who were affected by that offense, but I do believe that it is important that they learn from the past.
“Warfare and bloodshed’ and “Slavery” are on the list. How would history questions be put on the test? The history of the US is in a lot of ways the history of our wars and conflicts. We fought the bloodiest war in our history over slavery.
Already controversial concepts like “Hunting”, “Evolution” and “Pornography” are on the list as are “Alcohol”, “Drugs”, “Cigarettes” and “Junk Food”.
Another topic, “in-depth discussions of sports that requires prior knowledge” is puzzling and ridiculous. To be able to discuss any issue requires prior knowledge of the subject! I’m not sure why this was included in the list.
This situation has gotten plenty of attention on the evening news talk shows. It also is a controversial topic on the web. An examination of the comments from various people on several Internet sites reveals that most people think this is ridiculous. Several people complained about the dumbing down of America. while others slammed the New York City school department for being out of touch. Still others complained about “victim hood”.
However, one person proposed that this was not so much an action by an overly politically correct school department as it was a school department worried about test scores. Like many states, teachers feel they are under pressure to get their students to test as high as possible on these exams. They may not want students to be distracted by these issues. In my opinion, this may be the reason.
The city of New York is not the first to attempt to ban certain words. The state of California has banned the word “weed” while Florida has banned the words “hurricane” and “wildfire” It also should be noted that no effort has been given to ban these words and terms from the curriculum, just the standardized tests and this is just a proposal. There is no word whether or not this has been approved.
Still, one must question the wisdom of this action. If we are educating our children, it would be irresponsible (if not dangerous) for us to eliminate certain concepts because they can be perceived as offensive or unpleasant. If we chose just to teach them certain, safe concepts, we are raising a generation of individuals who will be unable to deal with crises in the future. We owe it to them and the future of this country.
NEW YORK CITY SCHOOLS PROPOSED BANNED WORDS AND CONCEPTS
Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
Cancer (and other diseases)
Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
Children dealing with serious issues
Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
Death and disease
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Gambling involving money
Homes with swimming pools
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Loss of employment
Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Television and video games (excessive use)
Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
Vermin (rats and roaches)
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.
War and bloodshed
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)