Sanitizing Text Again
New York state education officials are still rewriting literature according to today's New York Times.
In new guidelines, the state promised complete paragraphs with no deletions, but an excerpt from Kafka (on the importance of literature) changes his words and removes the middle of a paragraph without using ellipses, in the process deleting mentions of God and suicide.
The new state guidelines promised not to sanitize, but a passage on people's conception of time from Aldous Huxley (a product of England's colonial era) deletes the paragraphs on how unpunctual "the Oriental" is.
But the saddest example of how standardized testing is lowering academic standards (as a recent national study by Arizona State University reports) can be seen in the way New York officials butchered an excerpt from a PBS documentary on the influenza epidemic of 1918.
Like any good historical work, the documentary on this epidemic, which killed half a million Americans, included numerous interviews with historians, novelists, medical experts and survivors, and quoted primary sources of the era. But the three-page passage read out loud to students on the state exam is edited to make it appear that there is only one speaker.
Though the new guidelines promised to identify the authors of any excerpts, the state does not identify the documentary's author, Ken Chowder. It does identify the narrator, although — oops! — incorrectly: the narrator was Linda Hunt, not David McCullough. As Ms. Heifetz says, any student who melded the words of a dozen people into one and then misidentified the narrator would surely be flunked.
The state version cuts out the passages with the most harrowing and moving accounts of the epidemic, as when children played on piles of coffins stacked outside an undertaker's home. It removes virtually all references to government officials' mishandling the epidemic. It deletes the references to religious leaders like Billy Sunday, who promised that God would protect the virtuous, even as worshipers dropped dead at his services.
Of course this trend is what is wrong with most public school curriculum: by cleansing information to make it politically acceptable, literature and history become just boring.