New York City schools: Teaching to the new Eloi — Annie Keeghan , NYC schools textbook list — AAPEX

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New York City schools: Teaching to the new Eloi

Fellow playwrights, take this as a cautionary tale
when considering pitching your plays to the NYC schools.

In H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, the Eloi were the insipid, mindless above-ground inhabitants of Earth in the future. The Morlocks were the troglodyte-like cretins who lived and worked underground to feed the Eloi and to create and sustain their world. I thought of them when I stumbled upon this post while searching for information on NYC school textbook purchasing. It was written by book editor Annie Keeghan re the NYC school's 'list" of what topics/words are deemed acceptable in books/tests purchased by the school system. In order not to offend anyone, books with topics and words like "dinosaur, mp3 players, and cell phones" probably won't be accepted because they might bring up the science of evolution or remind some kids they're poor. In my mind, these are the first kind of steps needed to create a race of ignorant silly folk. In frustration, Keeghan asks what else will be banned:

Terrorism certainly isn’t a surprising exclusion, but slavery? There are no guidelines given, so the context of this reference is in question. Certainly some of the most historically significant topics, such as the Slave Papers or the writings of Frederick Douglass or the heroism of Harriett Tubman aren’t intended to be excluded from tests. Or are they? We don’t know. Because lists like the ones coming out of New York offer no definitive explanations or guidelines; they raise only more questions, inspire fear in editors responsible for decision-making, and create a general reluctance on the part of publishers to go near any topic remotely off-limits.

Dinosaurs was a curious exclusion on the New York list, I have to admit. One of the most consistent drumbeats for reading product is for publishers to create “high-interest” material to stimulate reluctant readers. As a product developer and writer, this becomes increasingly difficult as more topics are relegated to “lists.” What’s left to write about that kids can relate to, that kids have interest in, that allows for tapping prior knowledge and the application of real-life concepts when all sense of real-life is removed from the academic experience? Studies show that the topic of dinosaurs is a particular favorite of struggling male readers. But now, because of “the list”, that one’s gone. Poof. Vanished. Extinct. The reasoning? Dinosaurs might inspire debate about evolution, as if the existence of dinosaurs was a theory and not a reality. And this is from educators! Apparently science and theology cannot coexist, which, if I recall my history correctly, was the reason Galileo was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1633.

Have we not moved beyond the 17th century?

The issue about slavery and dinosaurs begs another question: If these topics are banned in state tests, how long before these topics are lost or diluted in science and history texts? What other topics are in jeopardy? You may think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you, I’m not. This is how critical decisions about curriculum content are made when there are lists out there. Editors and publishers go beyond the list to anticipate what else might get the thumbs down from whoever is going to review the materials and make the ultimate decision to purchase. Because if the mention of a birthday is going to evoke something unpleasant, well, so might the mention of a Quinceañera or some other celebration. If dinosaurs are taboo, does that mean other archeological discoveries will be black listed? Are ancient Egyptians or the Mayan people in jeopardy? After all, there are some cultural rituals and beliefs that might offend. And if you can’t mention mp3 players or video games or home computers, what other everyday luxury items have the potential to cause emotional harm? Cars? Cell phones? The debate will be endless, the fallout widespread.

To read the full article, please click here.

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