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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Not merely the validity of experience..."

The NYC Ministry of Truth Department of Education wants a long list of words banned from standardized tests, to avoid making students "uncomfortable" or "jealous." Some of these words (or, more accurately, the activities and concepts they refer to) already don't make sense as things to put on standardized tests -- why would you have a question about pornography or abuse of people, alcohol or drugs on a test designed for school-aged children? And don't get me started on the Georgia testmakers who had slavery word problems. But not wanting to trigger trauma is not the same as not wanting to bring up the fact that there are people who adhere to different religions, or celebrate holidays you don't. And the way to address our society's class inequalities is not to take "swimming pools" off of tests (though, as with the long-ago yacht example from the SAT, questions probably shouldn't require personal experience of how long a swimming pool is).

What's the line, here? Even if we all agree that a random question about divorce might be unnecessary or insensitive, will we all agree that dancing is out, except for ballet? Or that music is fine, as long as it's not rap or rock and roll? And how far do we take it? Should we remove all references to light, to keep from making the migraine sufferers uncomfortable? Should we remove all mention of parents, in case anyone taking the test has ever had an argument with theirs? What about dogs -- surely someone is afraid of dogs. Or clowns or spiders or heights. You know what? We'd better ban use of the word "people" as well, since they're known to case so much of the distress in the world.

More seriously, what happens when people who don't want "disturbing" things, like evolution or religious difference, in the classroom use their exclusion on the test as a precedent?

Sorry for the screed. I just think there are so many more important things the Dept. of Ed. could be focusing on. Like actually teaching students the skills they need to succeed in the world, which include learning to think and live well in a world that will not simply edit itself for your comfort.

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