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Peace & Love, y’all.
pained and walleyed,
drenched and dry,
frozen, fierce-to-mild and back again—
this is spring.
Put pen in hand:
let the death
and the life of April
rage on, my dearest poet.
This is one of the pair that inspired “Monday Morning”, written last summer. The Kite has returned, along with her oddly feathered children. I can only wonder over the Falcon’s whereabouts. He is missed.
Robert Frost’s poems often include tools. I suppose he was a man who believed men were defined by their work and took pride in his as well as of his father’s, and so on. I’ll admit to not being a student of Frost’s, but the tools are a bit obvious, and he wields them with a certain loveliness that can be appreciated.
Poets can be depended upon to have a thing. Or, a central theme to their larger body of work if you prefer a more literary explanation of this point I’m getting around to. Whether or not the theme is premeditated or simply emerges probably depends upon the individual writer.
Regional landscapes, religion, sex, love, mythology, environmental rape, social discord, war, motherhood, traffic jams, cats… nothing is off limits. Poetry can translate the most mundane day-by-day schlock, or even the ugliest horrors, into tremendous, emotionally evocative lines.
Of course every writer and reader of poetry knows this. Being a greedy reader, I knew this, and it was usually a fun process to read through a particular book a second time once the theme had become utterly clear and relatable.
However! Now that I’m earnestly working on completing a collection of poetry that will bear my name, my theme is emerging. With the grace of a 2×4 hurdling from the guts of an F-5 tornado toward unsuspecting victims.
No, I didn’t expect the first dozen or so poems completed for this collection to hold up to scrutiny like that endured by Mr. Frost’s poems, or any other incredible household-name-sort of writer. I just wanted them, in some small way, to reflect me. Truth be told, this work is reflecting an aspect of my personality that is utterly authentic… and ridiculously misanthropic.
Honestly, I didn’t realize this about myself until recently. And I certainly didn’t intend for it to burst out of my poetry in such an obvious way. After reading through these first dozen or so poems, I said “UGH!” and went about trying to force in some sunshine and brotherly love. That did not go well. Then I read through poems that I’ve posted here, and completed for class assignments. Wow. It was there all along and I never took notice.
I do not hate all humankind, not everyday at least. Promise. But on the days I do, I’m not very good at making it seem otherwise.
Diane Ravitch has served education in various capacities, including as committee member in California participating in the revision of the social science curriculum framework during the 80s, Assistant Secretary and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexandar in the 90s, and currently, Research Professor of Education at New York University. Long a proponent of politically correct language as a means to drive abhorrent discrimination from everyday American usage, Ravitch was shocked to find that even the best of intentions had gone too far by the early 90s, and discussed many of her findings in The Language Police (2004).
Almost by accident, I stumbled upon an elaborate, well-established protocol of beneficent censorship, quietly endorsed and broadly implemented by textbook publishers, testing agencies, professional associations, states, and the federal government. I did not learn about this state of affairs in one fell swoop, but one step at a time. Like others who are involved in education… I had always assumed that textbooks were based on careful research and designed to help children learn something valuable. I thought that tests were designed to assess whether they had learned it. What I did not realize was that educational materials are now governed by an intricate set of rules to screen out language and topics that might be considered controversial or offensive. Some of this censorship is trivial, some is ludicrous, and some is breathtaking in its power to dumb down what children learn in school. (p. 3)
“Bias Guidelines” are a specific concern of the author’s—guidelines established by textbook publishers, developed as a means to meet the demands of selection committees with multicultural, politically correct extremist tendencies. Ravitch contacted publishers, asking for copies of their bias guidelines in order to determine just how many active companies participated in this practice. Some complied, some did not. Of the guidelines she gathered, Ravitch discovered what I consider a very important confirmation of Delfattore’s statement that extremists operate on the assumption that education’s function is to describe what should be rather than what is, and to reverse yesterday’s injustices: Literature and History textbook and test content that involved death and disease, criminal behavior, politics, religion, social problems, unsafe situations, etc., were being flagged for removal.
In short, content and test questions were being selected by criteria other than accuracy, just as those proponents of the great white American hero archetypes bursting with moral patriotism had been doing in prior years.
Even in consideration and with sensitivity toward younger children, how can anyone deem it appropriate to avoid discussing politics, religion, death and disease, and unsafe situations in HISTORY? After all, great many historical figures are, in fact, dead. And many of those historical figures died from effects of war, disease, criminal behavior, etc.
For the writers, publishers, and adopters of learning materials to enforce an avoidance of The Obvious is to enforce Designed Ignorance.
Ravitch, Delfattore, and Loewen are just three of the researchers and prolific writers whose help I sought in supporting, and disputing, my argument—I also consulted Francis Fitzgerald, author of America Revised (1979),referenced by both Ravitch and Loewen, Joseph Moreau, author of Schoolbook Nation (2004), and The Hanover Historical Review, as well as writers for The Huffington Post, and Texas Tribune. I discovered toward the end of my research time limit that my ambitions were over zealous. There was no time to interview professors, thoroughly evaluate an American History textbook in circulation, survey high school principals and students, etc. I had to settle for quickly accessible information and examine it all as closely as possible before developing a clear and cohesive idea of just what’s happening, and if I was correct in thinking that high school students may never learn real American History from textbooks.
As I stated earlier, my argument was proven incorrect. Oddly enough, it was also proven to be correct in that prevailing ideologies are allowed to influence the content of textbooks and shamelessly promote Designed Ignorance. Yes, attempting to impose moral patriotism by delivering false scholarship can precipitate the very antithesis of patriotic sensibilities in young learners. Likewise, slashing away at historical accuracy in order to avoid offending modern sensibilities and militant insistence upon politically correct language denies young learners the potential to make very important connections to community and country. Both sanctioned manipulations deny young learners the opportunity to consider verifiable primary sources and to make their own judgments.
I won’t get into the discussion of how Texas conservatism previously dominated the textbook market, and how that long powerful committee and school board has recently been decentralized. Nor will I tackle in this blog post the subject of California’s curriculum standards being adopted by states nationwide. The scope of my chosen topic was far too broad and covered far too many complexities within the education system to be adequately addressed in a twenty-five page research paper, much less a few blog posts. Even so, I feel confident that my conclusion encourages further study and discussion of just how learning materials are compiled and selected. Here is an excerpt:
The “jarring dissonance” affect identified as the result of attempting to portray America as an “ideal construct” in history textbooks is also indicative of the diverse perspectives heard voiced in opinions by Americans occupying the fringes of the majority. Within any given era, among any combination of social groups, the American ideal can, and has, differed. The United States is a nation of diverse people, ranging from the political and religious apathetic to extreme activists striving for very specific goals. Ideologies differ so greatly that dissonance rather than harmony is commonplace.
Likewise, it is fair to say that the modern-day significance of any historical point could be challenged by a single group for so long the question of significance would eventually be rendered moot. With even a slight understanding of how divergent the American ideal is, it is apparent that the content of textbooks cannot reasonably be dictated by prevailing ideologies. Attempting to formulate guidelines that survive the test of time is an exercise in futility. Looking over the last four decades of political, social, and pedagogical turmoil, it is miraculous that any coherent textbooks were published at all. Because of this, rather than in spite of it, accuracy must become the priority for curriculum-writers, textbook selection committees, and publishers.
Reigning ideologies of a given decade should be reported in textbooks, not dictate the content and tone therein. Tailoring historical lessons to modern perspectives forces textbook authors and publishers into unethical practices by which the entire market succeeds or fails. Worse, such tactics rob young learners of the opportunity to gain critical thinking skills—skills vital to achieving successful citizenship. Dispensing with current guidelines and following the tenants of the history discipline is the best course of action to ensure that designed ignorance does not one day supplant true scholarship altogether.
Improvement in diet is soothing my newest university ulcers. Getting an A on the paper helped more than a little, too. I’m thankful for that A, and very thankful for the learning process the professor guided me through… it may take a few months for my exhausted brain to absorb so much new knowledge. I want to pursue this topic, research more, write more thoroughly, but I’ve had to face the necessary truth that rest and relaxation, and quietly absorbing all that knowledge is what’s called for just now, before stumbling toward another fifteen hour course load in the fall.
Meanwhile, I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed to be an American in spite of evidence that rampant bureaucracy needs a good kick in the butt. I am not ashamed of being a skeptical product of American education, or of the joys and frustrations experienced as a non-traditional university student with a recently discovered passion for finding a means to help today’s (and tomorrow’s) young learners fend off designed ignorance.
Knowledge is power. Go get some.