A clever parent recently discovered that the NY state regents exams have been making use of classic essays and other selections purged of any and all potentially “sensitive” material. This has produced such absurdities as Isaac Bashevis Singer essays with all references to Judaism excised (which is like a Quentin Tarantino flick with all the “fucks” cut out), an Elie Wiesel piece with any mention of God scrupulously removed, and an excerpt from a book by Anne Lamott in which the apparently scandalous two-word sentence “She’s gay” didn’t make the cut. Gone also are any references to alcohol, violence, ethnicity, sex, and anything else remotely interesting. Many of the excisions substantially change the tone and meaning of the piece in question.
Upon reading this, I immediately thought of David Horowitz. Now, Horowtiz may be an unbalanced little carnival sideshow, but he’s a hell of a tactician, and I saw him offer this advice in a lecture once: “Split the popular front.” That bit of old socialist rhetoric means, in effect, that internal tensions in the left should be exploited, and the biggest is the latent conflict between old-style liberals who place a high value on civil liberties such as free-speech, and the Political Correctness freaks who are gung-ho for censorship, as long as you don’t call it that.
Now, it occurs to me that the Regents bruhaha is not just an instance of PC taken to insane extremes, but also an illustration of the problems attendant on public (and therefore politicized) control of information. Because the Regents Exam is citywide, it was inevitable that this artistic mangling would eventually be discovered (though it certainly took a while) and that people all over the city would have an interest in it. But isn’t it likely that the same concern with not offending anyone has similarly affected curricula in the cities public schools in various ways, no less egregious, but less visible because different and dispersed? I wonder… can some of those old school liberals — the ones whose distrust of government and belief in truly liberal education still outpaces their penchant for thought control — be convinced by cases just like this that vouchers are necessary? I certainly hope so. Inefficiency and wasteful spending are negligent; rewriting Chekov is sacreligious.