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Perhaps we all need thicker skins!

Posted by Lotg on May 15, 2003

In Reply to: Argh! This is makes my blood boil posted by Word Camel on May 07, 2003

: : : All of these have been banned from American text books. Here's a link to an interesting book that investigates how this happens.

: : I'd like to read that book. Here's part of an article on the same subject:

: : The Elderly Man and the Sea? Test Sanitizes Literary Texts
: : Sun Jun 2, 3:08 PM ET
: : By N. R. KLEINFIELD The New York Times

: : At first, Jeanne Heifetz thought she had merely tripped over one of those quirks that occasionally worm their way into standardized tests. Words were missing from a book excerpt she was familiar with on a Regents English exam. But when she discovered a second extensively altered excerpt, she began to wonder, "If there were two, could there be more?" Was something sinister afoot?

: : So, driven by curiosity and her antipathy to the exams, she rounded up a batch of recent Regents tests, which New York State requires public high school students to take to graduate, and started double-checking the excerpts that serve as the basis for questions. What she found astonished her.

: : In a feat of literary sleuth work, Ms. Heifetz, the mother of a high school senior and a weaver from Brooklyn, inspected 10 high school English exams from the past three years and discovered that the vast majority of the passages drawn from the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anton Chekhov and William Maxwell, among others had been sanitized of virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason. Students had to write essays and answer questions based on these doctored versions versions that were clearly marked as the work of the widely known authors.

: : In an excerpt from the work of Mr. Singer, for instance, all mention of Judaism is eliminated, even though it is so much the essence of his writing. His reference to "Most Jewish women" becomes "Most women" on the Regents, and "even the Polish schools were closed" becomes "even the schools were closed." ...

: I'm astounded at many of the examples you've provided as being unsuitable for publication.

I'm quite notorious among my peers for my lack of political correctness, and my inclination to call a spade a spade - which by-the-way is apparently considered to be an offensive and racist term in the U.S.

I trawled through the archives to look for the meaning of calling a 'spade a spade' and it apparently pre-dates American slavery and has no racial connotations at all. And indeed, whenever I use the term, I certainly mean no more than I'm being direct, being straight, telling it like it is. But it seems I can't even say I'm being straight, because that implies a sexual connotation in that I'm heterosexual (which is OK by me - but apparently not necessarily correct to say in some circles). In fact, it gets rather risky to say anything at all sometimes.

Another problem is that something that is 'incorrect' in one country can be quite OK in another - even if the same basic language is spoken. eg. Some years ago, a rather famous little incident here in Australia, was when a local celebrity hosting an Award night along with a visit American celebrity - Mohammed Ali, responded to Mohammed's joke by slapping him on the back, laughing and saying "I like the boy". It almost caused a terrible disaster as Mohammed Ali thought he had been insulted. Apparently the term 'boy' used in the U.S. in reference to an American negro is derogatory, whereas the term in Australia was actually a general term of endearment to any male. Fortunately this misunderstanding was clarified and no blood was shed.

Furthermore, many of the terms you've mentioned have historical significance. We should not be trying to wipe the slate clean by trying to apply our standards today to things that have gone before. Standards and learning change and trying to hide the things in our past, even unsavoury things, is surely gross simplicity and ignorance.

Speaking for my own country, we are supposedly living in a free society, where we are afforded freedom of speech. However, political correctness and the sanitation of history and any texts, while perhaps initially well-meaning, seems to have become an insidious way of suppressing that freedom of speech and learning.