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Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2002/ 18 Shevat, 5762

Suzanne Fields

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Rewriting the past to politicize the present -- ALAS, political correctness is not satire. And that's not Gulliver, making fun of the Laputans' use of language and learning. The educationists are speaking for themselves.

Jonathan Swift, who made sport of all corrupters of learning, cleverly depicted scientists on the island of Laputa trying to draw sunshine from a cucumber. When he wrote "A Modest Proposal,'' suggesting eating Irish babies as a solution to the poverty of Ireland, his satire, aimed at the absentee English landlords, had a stinging, ringing point.

Political correctness, on the other hand, is dumb, humorless and witless, the stuff of dull and ignorant minds. Sometimes you think certain proposals are satire until you read past the first sentence or two.

Take, for example, the revisions under consideration for standards for teaching history in the public schools administered by the New Jersey Department of Education. The Pilgrims and the Mayflower, speaking of standard stories of our history, are not to be mentioned. History is not to be dumbed down, but erased.

George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson aren't to be mentioned, either. Since the founding of the republic is not very important, the kids will study such luminaries as Theodore Dwight Weld and Angelina and Sarah Grimke. (Don't ask. You'll find them in the section about the Civil War, Reconstruction and slavery, opponents of.)

In defense of such rank discrimination, the educationists of New Jersey say teachers don't have to be reminded of the Founding Fathers, but they do have to be encouraged to teach about those who worked to abolish slavery.

Among the genuinely educated, New Jersey is notorious. Its state legislature not long ago nixed a requirement for students to recite each day a 56-word passage from the Declaration of Independence beginning with "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.''

This was held to be insensitive to blacks because it was written when there were slaves; unfair to women because it only mentions men. "One black assemblywoman declared that the Declaration of Independence could not apply to her either as a woman or as "a minority.'' Civil liberties groups questioned the phrase "unalienable right'' to life, suggesting it was a sneaky euphemism for "anti-abortion'' sentiment and one legislator objected to the word "creator'' because it would force students to accept "a state-sponsored religion.'' Others said the recitation went "too far'' in pushing patriotism. New Jersey being New Joisey, still others were no doubt offended by the poetic cadences of the soaring rhetoric.

Public school history texts are often diluted and image-driven, appealing to the lowest common denominator, but there is wide support for historical revisionism among the educationists at all levels of the bureaucratic hierarchies, from lower public and private schools through colleges and universities.

Genuine learning makes bureaucratic teeth itch. The revisionists want to change the standards for crediting ideas of dead white men because they lacked "multicultural'' points of view, and racism is covered up in the name of ethnocentrism and triumphalism. Hence, the focus on Thomas Jefferson, insofar as there is a focus, is on the man who kept slaves rather than the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

This runs much deeper than political correctness. The Greeks and Romans have been mostly wiped out of history, too. No longer do the ancients provide reference points for understanding human values. Earlier generations understood that we understand ourselves better by understanding the past.

Revisionists want to rewrite the past to politicize the present. Multiculturalism not only emphasizes divisiveness, it downgrades the specific contribution of those worthies who, through no fault of their own, were born white and male and who, probably driven by guilt and angst, created the civilization that makes everything possible today.

The new history standards are still in draft form and 20 public hearings will be held before they are final. "If we get feedback from people who think we should include the names of George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson in the standards, then we'll do it,'' says Jay Doolan, the acting assistant commissioner of the state's Division of Academic and Career Standards. How big of him.

A professor at a small West Virginia college captures the quality of the contemporary teaching of history in his collection of student boners. One student wrote: "When Caesar is assassinated on the 'Yikes of March,' Caesar says, 'Me too, Brutus.'''

Jonathan Swift, eat your heart out.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS