NYC Department of Education, according to CBS News on March 26, 2012, wanted to ban 50 words from school tests. An attack on freedom of thought. Forbidden words bite not, they think.
Some of the words the NYC Department of Education wanted to banish from tests are:
Abuse, alcohol, birthday, bodily functions, cancer, catastrophes, cigarettes, computers in the home, crime, death and disease, expensive gifts, gambling, Halloween, homes with swimming pools, hunting, junk food, loss of employment, occult topics, parapsychology, rap music, religion, religious holidays, sex, slavery, terrorism, vermin, violence, weapons, witchcraft…
This, under the precept that dead dogs bite not, and with the guidelines outlined in George Orwell’s novel 1984, where Big Brother not only watched people, he banned words, uprooted them from dictionaries, created a newspeak with a limited vocabulary so that people would not have enough words to be able to think properly.
There is a long tradition to this. In 1490, in Salamanca, Spain, 6000 books, supposed to be heretical, were burnt. In 1612 the Index Librorum prohibitorum expurgatorum, also and simply known as The Index, started its censorship journey into madness, and in time writers like Voltaire, Descartes, Balzac, Zola, Gibbons, Bakunin, Sartre… were included. The last edition was published in 1948… but the spirit of banning thoughts, ideas, and now words, prevails and is very much alive. This is the spirit of the New York City Department of Education. No, I am not being harsh.
It is good to remember that, for example, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis was banned in Hitler’s Germany, as also was Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was suppressed in Ireland. The list is long and the reasons advanced weak and flimsy.
The war on writers, books and ideas is being replaced by the war on words, under the guise of the need to be politically correct and avoid causing offense. Whatever happened to free speech? Where did the idea of a free press, the freedom to use words?
Why would a student be affected by the term birthday? Maria Diamond of WCBS reports that as Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays, mentioning this fact in a test might cause offense.
Would the use of words like cockroach and mouse make students uneasy? Aren´t these vermin rampant in New York City? Does the NYC Department of Education wish to hide reality and vermin from schoolchildren?
There are banned words countrywide, to the shame of us all.
The object of education is to prepare citizens for life, providing them with all necessary tools to deal with its hurdles and snags. The truth, reality, no matter how politically incorrect it may be, cannot be hidden.
Things are the way they are, and by banning words we deem uncomfortable, we will not censor that reality and make it go away. Death and disease, no matter what NYC Dept. of Education may think, are a part of life and are here to stay. So is junk food, unfortunately.
There is something else behind this trivial idea of banning words: the purpose is to truncate, curtail academic freedom, which is the secret dream of all politicians.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has been fighting for academic freedom and a free society for years, and officials at schools and universities have been trying to gag that freedom for years also. It is going to be a never ending quest on both sides.
Please do not tell educators how to go about their business, and do not banish words because the ideas, the concepts, behind them cannot be banned and will exist whether a Department of Education likes it or not.
The latest news, also on CBS, on April 2, 2012 is that after an uproar from parents, the NYC Department of Education, decided to reverse the case to ban 50 words in tests, but they still recommend they be avoided.
Words, however, are the bedrock of freedom. You have the right to differ, of course.