Anodyne education

The Baltimore Sun

For starters, a specimen: A woman in Fairfax County, Virginia, wants Toni Morrison's Beloved banned from the school system. The content, Laura Murphy says, is too disturbing for students, and she plans to lobby the Virginia Board of Education to give parents more control over what their children read in school. And yes, of course, she says, "I'm not some crazy book-burner."

It's all for the children, you see. School must be a safe place for them, a place where nothing upsets them, where they do not see or hear anything that conflicts with what their parents think.

You see the same sort of thing when parents want Huckleberry Finn removed or bowdlerized. You see it in the American Library Association's lists of banned books. You see it when dimwit legislators and state school boards attempt to smuggle creationism into the science curriculum.

Sadly, you also see that timorous educators and textbook publishers cater to this attitude. Frances Fitzgerald's excellent America Revised of 1979 describes in detail how publishers of American history textbooks systematically turn out a bland mush that explains to students that in the past we had "problems" of some ill-defined sort but every year in every way we are getting better and better. Musn't upset anyone with unpleasant facts.

Last year the platform of the Texas Republican Party included this passage:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.*

So, as well-meaning as I am sure Laura Murphy is, I think it's clear what kind of robotic education the nation will provide if she and the Texas GOP and certain evangelicals hold sway. To keep from "undermining parental authority," we will allow the most timorous, most ignorant, most bigoted parent in the school system to exercise a veto over the curriculum. The goal: to raise a generation of Stepford children who never question their parents, their teachers, their masters, and who never encounter anything that might upset them.

Given the inherent cussedness of the species and the tendency of even the best-regulated offspring to rebel, I think that Ms. Murphy may need to give some thought to drugging them as well.


*I am not making this up, you know.


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