- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

There is a darkly comic side to the cultural-commissarring that, first, bases a state English exam on a most politically correct anthology writings on race, homosexuality, ethnicity, even the United Nations and then proceeds to politically-correct the anthology itself. "Inclusive" they may be, but selections on lesbian, racial or global themes turn out to be at least as "offensive" to the politically correct police as anything a dead or dying white male ever wrote.
That's because, it seems, reference to race, homosexuality, ethnicity anything not completely non-specific and generic, really might make a sensitivity-trained student "uncomfortable in a testing situation." Never mind the vulgarity from music to language to sexuality that saturates the life of the same student. The wrong word on a test might furrow his brow, thus violating New York's "sensitivity guidelines."
So stated a state education official to the New York Times in defense of the heavily edited readings by well-known authors that appear on the state Regents English exam. As a Brooklyn mother named Jeanne Heifetz discovered, these works have been sanitized by the education bureaucracy to the point of senselessness.
What Ms. Heifetz found out would make a hilarious satire if only it weren't so depressingly prosaic. All references to Judaism, for example, have been deleted from a test selection by Isaac Bashevis Singer, famed chronicler of Jewish life. All references to race have vanished from a scene in which Annie Dillard describes being a white visitor in a black neighborhood. The explanation for a broken engagement ("She's gay!") has been cut from an excerpt from "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. In a passage from Ernesto Galarza's "Barrio Boy," a "skinny" boy becomes "thin," and a "fat" boy becomes "heavy." As Ms. Heifetz told the newspaper, "When I saw that, I really thought they had lost their minds."
There's more. "Man, who was created in God's image, wants to be free as God is free," Elie Wiesel wrote in an essay. New York test-takers, however, encounter the comfort-edited version: "Man wants to be free." A speech by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan you know, the great literary stylist has been edited not only to cut a reference to congressional opposition to the United Nations (horrors), but also to eliminate a compliment to California wine. (This leaves Mr. Annan praising "fine California seafood.") Out of the 30 passages Ms. Heifetz examined, 19 were very radically and very ridiculously altered. This has left plenty of literary lions and civil liberties groups mighty affronted.
As, of course, they should be. But after decades of the obliterations of political correctness, cultural cleansing is nothing new as any fan of Shakespeare, Kipling, Twain or Keats will tell you. While there is a certain mindlessness at work in New York that is somewhat novel, this beserkly primitive tendency is all too familiar. Let's just hope the Enlightened Ones, having set the machinery in motion, Sorcerer's Apprentice-style, aren't really too surprised.


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