Thursday, March 29, 2012

Legislative Tourette's in NYC

A few weeks back, I introduced the concept of "legislative Tourette's" with respect to Los Angeles, which decided to make throwing footballs or frisbees on city beaches (or digging holes deeper than 18 inches) a fine-able offense. I took that as a ridiculous example of a local government overstepping its bounds and meddling where it really doesn't need to meddle.

But there's always more examples of that sort of thing, and New York City came along and made me shake my head once again. From the New York Post (yeah, yeah, I know, consider the source, but CNN was on this one too...):
In a bizarre case of political correctness run wild, educrats have banned references to “dinosaurs,” “birthdays,” “Halloween” and dozens of other topics on city-issued tests. 
That’s because they fear such topics “could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students.” 
Dinosaurs, for example, call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists; birthdays aren’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Halloween suggests paganism. 
Even “dancing’’ is taboo, because some sects object. But the city did make an exception for ballet... 
Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. Poverty is likewise on the forbidden list. 
Also banned are references to divorces and diseases, because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill... 
“This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction,” said a Department of Education spokeswoman, insisting it’s not censorship... 
The city asks test companies to exclude “creatures from outer space,” celebrities and excessive TV and video-game use — items that are OK elsewhere. 
Homes with swimming pools and computers are also unmentionables here — because of economic sensitivities — while computers in the school or in libraries are acceptable. 
City officials also specified that test makers shouldn’t include items that are potentially “disrespectful to authority or authority figures,” or give human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects.
I'm sorry, but WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?? I mean really, once you've corrected for every single thing that any student could conceivably be "sensitive" to, what is left? Anything?

I had a run-in with a German Shepherd when I was a little tyke, so should dogs be off-limits on my tests? I also once fell off my bicycle and scraped my knee, and also this one time when I was playing basketball with the other kids I took a shot and I missed and I still feel really bad about it. So please let's just not mention it, okay? Really, where does this all end?

Ultimately, I understand the concept that these administrators are going for, I really do. But it's pretty clear to most of us when these attempts to sanitize everything have simply gone too far. Education, if nothing else, should be designed to prepare students for the things that they are likely to encounter in life, out in "the real world".

Out there, Halloween does exist, people have birthdays (we even celebrate them with national holidays--which, if you think about it, should also be off-limits on these tests...), and you're going to encounter rich people, poor people, dancing people, dinosaur fossils, and maybe even an alien or two. Sheltering our young students from these realities serves no real purpose, and could even be counter-productive to their long-term development.

Yes, I know, this article isn't saying that students won't be taught about these sorts of things, only that they won't be tested on them--but is that really such a fundamental difference? This whole thing is an utter waste of time and resources, and our administrators need to focus their attention elsewhere--their ridiculous misplacement of priorities is a huge part of the reason that our nation's academic performance continues to flounder.

[NY Post]

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