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The Elderly Man and the Sea? Test Sanitizes Literary Texts
The New York Times ^ | 6/1/02 (for editions of 6/2/02) | N. R. Kleinfield

Posted on 06/01/2002 5:31:27 PM PDT by GeneD

At first, Jeanne Heifetz thought she had merely tripped over one of those quirks that occasionally worm their way into standardized tests. Words were missing from a book excerpt she was familiar with on a Regents English exam. But when she discovered a second extensively altered excerpt, she began to wonder, "If there were two, could there be more?" Was something sinister afoot?

So, driven by curiosity and her antipathy to the exams, she rounded up a batch of recent Regents tests, which New York State requires public high school students to take to graduate, and started double-checking the excerpts that serve as the basis for questions. What she found astonished her.

In a feat of literary sleuth work, Ms. Heifetz, the mother of a high school senior and a weaver from Brooklyn, inspected 10 high school English exams from the past three years and discovered that the vast majority of the passages — drawn from the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anton Chekhov and William Maxwell, among others — had been sanitized of virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason. Students had to write essays and answer questions based on these doctored versions — versions that were clearly marked as the work of the widely known authors.

In an excerpt from the work of Mr. Singer, for instance, all mention of Judaism is eliminated, even though it is so much the essence of his writing. His reference to "Most Jewish women" becomes "Most women" on the Regents, and "even the Polish schools were closed" becomes "even the schools were closed." Out entirely goes the line "Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles." In a passage from Annie Dillard's memoir, "An American Childhood," racial references are edited out of a description of her childhood trips to a library in the black section of town where she is almost the only white visitor, even though the point of the passage is to emphasize race and the insights she learned about blacks.

The State Education Department, which prepares the exams, acknowledged modifying excerpts to satisfy elaborate "sensitivity review guidelines" that have been in use for decades, but are periodically revised. It said it did not want any student to feel ill at ease while taking the test.

After making her discovery, Ms. Heifetz contacted most of the affected authors or their publishers, and found them angered that their words had been tampered with without their consent. Word circulated among groups concerned about censorship and literary affairs, and an assortment of them, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Association of American Publishers, the New York Civil Liberties Union and PEN, jointly sent a letter on Friday to Richard P. Mills, the state education commissioner, calling for an end to the practice.

The groups, which plan to hold a news conference tomorrow, condemned the editing as intellectually dishonest and a form of censorship that distorts the content and meaning of the works. "Testing students on inaccurate literary passages is an odd approach to measuring academic achievement," the letter said.

The modifications to the passages ranged widely. In the Chekhov story "The Upheaval," the exam takes out the portion in which a wealthy woman looking for a missing brooch strip-searches all of the house's staff members. Students are then asked to use the story to write an essay on the meaning of human dignity.

A paragraph in John Holt's "Learning All the Time" is truncated to eliminate some of the reasons Suzuki violin instruction differs in Japan and the United States, apparently not to offend anyone who might find the particulars somehow insulting. Students are nonetheless then asked to answer questions about those differences.

Certain revisions bordered on the absurd. In a speech by Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, in addition to deletions about the United States' unpaid debt to the United Nations, any mention of wine and drinking was removed. Instead of praising "fine California wine and seafood," he ends up praising "fine California seafood." In Carol Saline's "Mothers and Daughters" a daughter no longer says she "went out to a bar" with her mother; on the Regents, they simply "went out."

In an excerpt from "Barrio Boy," by Ernesto Galarza (whose name was misspelled on the exam as Gallarzo), a "gringo lady" becomes an "American lady." A boy described as "skinny" became "thin," while another boy who was "fat" became "heavy," adjectives the state deemed less insulting.

"When I saw that," Ms. Heifetz said, "I really thought they had lost their minds."

In undertaking her exploration, Ms. Heifetz was in part motivated by her low regard for the exams, which have long provoked controversy over their worth and prevalence, though she said she had always assumed that they were correctly prepared. Rosa Jurjevics, her daughter, is a senior at the Urban Academy Laboratory High School, a small school on the Upper East Side. It belongs to a consortium of 32 schools that educate largely poor children and that oppose the Regents exams. The consortium had a waiver that excused its students from taking the exams until last June, and it continues to battle the Education Department over the issue.

The latest round of the two-day Regents in English will be administered to seniors on June 18 and 19.

The 10 exams Ms. Heifetz reviewed contained 30 passages, and she found what she considered significant changes in 19, with minor revisions in four others. One short story and four poems appeared verbatim, she said, and she did not bother to investigate two excerpts because she did not find them literary samples to begin with. One was drawn from a motivational speech by Chuck Noll, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach, and another was a science article on leatherback turtles.

Only once, Ms. Heifetz said, did an exam use an ellipsis to indicate that material had been cut, and in no other way did the exams suggest that words had been substituted.

Roseanne DeFabio, the Education Department's assistant commissioner for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said on Friday, "We do shorten the passages and alter the passages to make them suitable for testing situations." The changes are made to satisfy the sensitivity guidelines the department uses, so no student will be "uncomfortable in a testing situation," she said. "Even the most wonderful writers don't write literature for children to take on a test."

Ms. DeFabio said that as a result of an objection recently received from an author, the department had decided to use ellipses in future exams. She also said she thought it worthwhile that the department consider marking passages that were altered, but did not believe that it was necessary to ask authors' permission to change their work.

One passage was derived from Frank Conroy's memoir, "Stop-Time." The changes include replacing "hell" with "heck" in one sentence and excising references to sex, religion, nudity and potential violence (in the form of the declared intent of two boys to kill a snake) that are essential to an understanding of the passage.

"I was just completely shocked," Mr. Conroy said. "It's going through and taking out the flavor of the month. It's terrible."

A number of the writers and scholars Ms. Heifetz contacted have written indignant letters that have also been submitted to the education commissioner. Mr. Conroy wrote in part: "Who are these people who think they have a right to `tidy up' my prose? The New York State Political Police? The Correct Theme Authority?"

Cathy Popkin, Lionel Trilling professor in the humanities at Columbia, wrote: "I implore you to put a stop to the scandalous practice of censoring literary texts, ostensibly in the interest of our students. It is dishonest. It is dangerous. It is an embarrassment. It is the practice of fools."

Ms. Heifetz, 41, of Park Slope, Brooklyn, is married to a publisher and has roots herself in the writing world. She graduated with a degree in English from Harvard and earned a master's degree in English from New York University. In the past, she has worked as a fact checker, writer and editor. She is a co-chairwoman of the Parents' Coalition to End High Stakes Testing, which advocates an alterative to the Regents.

She got onto this literary mischief when she noticed an excerpt on a Regents test identified as being from a speech by the author Anne Lamott. Ms. Heifetz knew her work and doubted that it had been part of a speech. She went to her bookshelf and plucked off a copy of "Bird by Bird," and found the passage, but it did not match the Regents excerpt. Among other things, a line that read "She's gay!" was deleted.

Soon after, Ms. Heifetz looked at another test and saw an excerpt from Isaac Bashevis Singer that seemed incorrect, because it was barren of references to Jews or Gentiles. She checked it and found that it had been substantially changed.

With some help from her husband, Juris Jurjevics, the publisher of Soho Press, she contacted the authors or publishers and found that none had consented to the use or the changes.

Annie Dillard was one of them. Responding to the removal of the racial context of her passage, she wrote to the state, "What could be the purpose of an exercise testing students on such a lacerated passage — one which, finally, is neither mine nor true to my lived experience?"


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; News/Current Events; US: New York
KEYWORDS: educationnews; educrats; english; literature; pc; regentsexams; standardizedtesting
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1 posted on 06/01/2002 5:31:28 PM PDT by GeneD
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To: GeneD
Bowlderization rears its ugly head....
2 posted on 06/01/2002 5:33:52 PM PDT by freebilly
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To: freebilly
That's "bowdlerization".
3 posted on 06/01/2002 5:37:51 PM PDT by freebilly
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To: freebilly
All great literature offends someone. The PC types are on a holy jihad against world literature now.
4 posted on 06/01/2002 5:38:13 PM PDT by goldstategop
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To: GeneD
Winston Smith would be at home in this country.
5 posted on 06/01/2002 5:40:02 PM PDT by Paul Atreides
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To: GeneD
"When I saw that," Ms. Heifetz said, "I really thought they had lost their minds."

They haven't lost their minds. They know what they are doing. That is the fact that people need to face. They are trying to achieve a certain sort of product: a certain mindset in the student. This is one of their means to accomplishing that goal.

They haven't lost their minds. They aren't stupid. They aren't confused. This is what they want.

Tuor

6 posted on 06/01/2002 5:40:40 PM PDT by Tuor
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To: goldstategop
Wonder if any high school in America now reads Huck Finn. Naturally, it can no longer be considered a classic piece of American literature because the "N" word is used, and Huck SMOKES!
7 posted on 06/01/2002 5:42:12 PM PDT by freebilly
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To: GeneD
No, those tests are made up using passages from that soon to be published, future best-seller: My Personal Thoughts and Recollections, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
8 posted on 06/01/2002 5:45:46 PM PDT by TomGuy
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To: *Education News
*Index Bump
9 posted on 06/01/2002 5:45:54 PM PDT by Fish out of Water
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To: Tuor
PC has invaded literature and texts have been censored, bowdlerized, and excerpt to purge it of all offending ideas and images because the PC police genuinely believe they're doing a public service and they also think that people (especially minorities) don't want to be exposed to what are regarded as concepts and ideas that insult or degrade their dignity and self-image. If this is what the New York State Education Department is doing with its tests, I'd hate to imagine what the situation must be like in the rest of the country.
10 posted on 06/01/2002 5:47:30 PM PDT by goldstategop
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To: GeneD
Shouldn't that be "The Elderly Person and the Sea?"

I'm just wating for all the government schools that expel kids for drawing pictures of guns to start burning history books that contain pictures of people with guns.

11 posted on 06/01/2002 5:48:50 PM PDT by Bubba_Leroy
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Comment #12 Removed by Moderator

To: GeneD
"The changes are made to satisfy the sensitivity guidelines the department uses, so no student will be "uncomfortable in a testing situation," she said.

And I bet some of you thought that Politically Correct Bedtime Stories was mere satire.

13 posted on 06/01/2002 5:50:12 PM PDT by PJ-Comix
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To: GeneD
We are truly doomed. The mohamidan barbarians are at the gates and we have to destroy our own culture to satisfy a whining group of malcontents. I'm weeping for my country.
14 posted on 06/01/2002 5:50:24 PM PDT by MrNeutron1962
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To: Tuor
Why don't we just lobotomize everyone from now on? Then everyone will be emotionally dead towards everyone else, peace will fill the earth, and we can all sing and hold hands.
15 posted on 06/01/2002 5:50:51 PM PDT by 3catsanadog
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To: Bubba_Leroy
I'm just wating for all the government schools that expel kids for drawing pictures of guns to start burning history books that contain pictures of people with guns.

They wont burn them, as that would provide a rallying point for their enemies. No, they'll just ease the offending books out quietly... like they're doing already.

Tuor

16 posted on 06/01/2002 5:51:47 PM PDT by Tuor
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To: GeneD;keri
Thank my luck stars!

I can sleep better at night knowing that our youth will not be traumatized by reality.

Maybe someday the great American Melting Pot will finally boil down to a cesspool of mediocrity. Then we can all feel real good about ourselves.

17 posted on 06/01/2002 5:53:35 PM PDT by nimdoc
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To: Tuor
Reminds me of Ray Bradbury's classic Farenheit 451. Instead of burning dangerous books, they're quietly penciling them out of the cirriculum.
18 posted on 06/01/2002 5:53:47 PM PDT by goldstategop
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To: 3catsanadog
Why don't we just lobotomize everyone from now on?

Lobotomized people make poor workers. Workers must be smart enough to do their jobs well, but not so smart as to think beyond their station. Moreover, they need to be happy with their station so that they don't become unruly. Unruly people require the use of resources to be quelled that could be otherwise used.

Tuor

19 posted on 06/01/2002 5:54:18 PM PDT by Tuor
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To: goldstategop
Remember when Winston Smith's colleague was sent to the Ministry of Love because he left the word "God" in a poem?

Newspeak was all about eliminating words that could incite unorthodoxy. That's what P.C. is all about. As in 1984, they are beginning with the children first.

20 posted on 06/01/2002 5:55:10 PM PDT by Paul Atreides
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To: GeneD
omigod. This appeared in the New York Times, the paper that was probably one of the leaders in PC and one of the parties responsible for the Bowdlerization of the universe?

Actually, reading the NYT over the last few months, the only positive thing I can say about Sept. 11 is that it prompted the NYT to reexamine some of its knee-jerk liberal attitudes. The Times has done some incredible reporting on 9/11, more than deserving of a Pulitzer, and I have detected large gusts of common sense blowing through areas that had been, up to now, seriously air-conditioned against them.

21 posted on 06/01/2002 5:58:45 PM PDT by livius
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To: GeneD
Didn't Joe Stalin used to practice this kind of cultural expurgation?
22 posted on 06/01/2002 6:02:59 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: Rat Bait
To make Huck Finn pass PC muster, let's change Huck's name to Haj Ali. Jim will now be a Black Muslim whose "slave name" has been replaced by Karim Ibrahim who now seeks "reparations" rather than "freedom".

Pap of course represents the degenerate, repressive, evil, eurocentric racist system. And let's make Tom Sawyer a liberal lesbian named Tamantha Sawyer.

Of course we'll change The Duke and The Dauphin into practicing homosexual pedophiles....

School boards all across America will order this revised classic by the boatload....

23 posted on 06/01/2002 6:06:52 PM PDT by freebilly
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To: Bubba_Leroy
Shouldn't that be "The Elderly Person and the Sea?"

I thought it was "The Senior Citizen and the Aquatic Bio-Diversity Zone".

24 posted on 06/01/2002 6:12:17 PM PDT by Reaganesque
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To: freebilly
The funny thing about Huck Finn is that it is a very anti racist book, particularly for its time. Now the PC police are pulling it from libraries because it uses "the N word".

Of course, if Samuel Clemens had been black then the book could stay. Black authors are still permitted to use "the N word."

25 posted on 06/01/2002 6:12:37 PM PDT by Bubba_Leroy
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To: 3catsanadog
Why don't we just lobotomize everyone from now on? Then everyone will be emotionally dead towards everyone else, peace will fill the earth, and we can all sing and hold hands.

That is the plan - creating the socialist Borg through the deadened minds of the children.

26 posted on 06/01/2002 6:12:53 PM PDT by concerned about politics
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To: freebilly
When the PC types remove the "N-word" from Huck, and substitute "African-Americans" it changes the speech of the viciously racist slave dealing Southerners and they begin to seem like nice, normal people.

That's certainly not what Mark Twain intended.

27 posted on 06/01/2002 6:15:28 PM PDT by muawiyah
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To: GeneD
I wonder what I The Jury would look like if these PC clowns ever get their hands on it.
28 posted on 06/01/2002 6:16:15 PM PDT by PJ-Comix
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To: livius
Actually, reading the NYT over the last few months, the only positive thing I can say
about Sept. 11 is that it prompted the NYT to reexamine some of its knee-jerk liberal attitudes.


I detect a bit of the same.
But, like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the USSR...I remain skeptical.

Personally I maintain the same policy for East Coast Liberal Insanity that Reagan
had for The Evil Empire: Trust, But Verify.

And if there ever is a President Hillary Rodham Clinton, I will know New York
had a brief episode of lucidity, then fell back to it's normal stage of left-wing insanity.
29 posted on 06/01/2002 6:16:23 PM PDT by VOA
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To: GeneD
I think the play, Twelve Angry Men, has been redone as, Twelve Angry Persons. I'm serious. Of course, you would never have a jury made up of twelve men nowadays, anyhow (let alone twelve white men).
30 posted on 06/01/2002 6:18:33 PM PDT by Charles Henrickson
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To: muawiyah
...it changes the speech of the viciously racist slave dealing Southerners and they
begin to seem like nice, normal people.

That's certainly not what Mark Twain intended.


You have nailed (with brevity) what I tried to get across to a UCLA undergrad.
But this poor deluded child had been convinced by his UCLA professor that the really evil thing
about Huckleberry Finn was the author!

As much as I tried to convince him that Twain was holding up slave-holders to ridicule
and harpooning slavery, he just couldn't abandon the PC-Party line.

And he still couldn't buy it when I said "HEY, I, my parents and a couple of generations
back were Southerners and know more about this stuff than you do!"
(the UCLA student was a good-hearted Asian immigrant...)
31 posted on 06/01/2002 6:25:17 PM PDT by VOA
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To: muawiyah
substitute "African-Americans"

No, we've moved on (or back). Now, it's "people of color."

Keep up!

LOL
32 posted on 06/01/2002 6:25:27 PM PDT by TomGuy
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To: Charles Henrickson
I think the play, Twelve Angry Men, has been redone as, Twelve Angry Persons.

At least it was still Twelve Angry Men when I got to see it in Bristol, England in 1996.
And it was very well done; the cast included the fellow who was the young sidekick of
"Inspector Morris", in the role Henry Fonda had in the movie version.

But these PC-types are relentless like Islamic terrorists...this is going to be a long war!
33 posted on 06/01/2002 6:28:34 PM PDT by VOA
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To: GeneD
They don't dare teach History anymore. Now it's social studies . "Feelings" of our forefathers are so much more educational. (barf, puke, hack, gag on a spoon).
34 posted on 06/01/2002 6:30:24 PM PDT by concerned about politics
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To: 3catsanadog
Why don't we just lobotomize everyone from now on?

Because, it is easier to just legalize drugs.

35 posted on 06/01/2002 6:30:43 PM PDT by screed
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To: Bubba_Leroy
Yeah, that's next. Some jerk principal in the Midwest painted over a Minuteman's musket in a school mural. He said, "Guns don't belong in school." This woman is against high-stakes testing so you could say she has her own agenda, but then again why should the Regents corrupt authors' passages? On a bright note, a couple of private schools in NY state recently refused to let their students take the Regents. A Luthern school says it interferes with their students' community service. Apparently, the students go to Mexico to build houses. Taking the NY State Regents exam would put private schools on the level of NY public schools.
36 posted on 06/01/2002 6:30:53 PM PDT by ladylib
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To: GeneD; aculeus; Orual
After making her discovery, Ms. Heifetz contacted most of the affected authors or their publishers, and found them angered that their words had been tampered with without their consent.

Good. I hope the guilty "educational" vandals get their asses sued off.

37 posted on 06/01/2002 6:35:39 PM PDT by dighton
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To: GeneD
I recently attended a high school drama production of Agatha Cristie's "Ten Little Indians". Of course this title was politically incorrect (particularly in South Dakota where Indian, excuse me Native American, nick names for sports teams are taboo)and the play was alternately billed as "Then There Were None"

Strangely the Indian motif that was central to the play was changed to "ten little Bengali boys" --apparently there aren't enough natives of India here to be offended.

38 posted on 06/01/2002 6:35:57 PM PDT by The Great RJ
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To: Charles Henrickson
I think the play, Twelve Angry Men, has been redone as, Twelve Angry Persons.

The Drama Club at my daughter's high school just finished a performance of "Twelve Angry People."

39 posted on 06/01/2002 6:39:45 PM PDT by quitwhining
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To: ladylib
Taking the NY State Regents exam would put private schools on the level of NY public schools.

No. Private schools could just fill in the dots without reading the questions and still excell over the public school kids. They're just plain dumber than a box of rocks.

Most private and homeschools do not use state tests. How could they answer a question that has been changed to PC lingo and paganism?
Or a question like this:
Mother Earth is:
1)Our world Goddess.
2) Living in a tree.
3) The source of all love.
4)All of the above.

Of course a normal child could not answer a question like this. The correct answer "None of the above" is not there!

40 posted on 06/01/2002 6:42:31 PM PDT by concerned about politics
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To: GeneD
The Elderly Man and the Sea?

How about "Geezerville resident and the sea?" or "Old codger and the sea?". ;o)

41 posted on 06/01/2002 6:46:34 PM PDT by BluH2o
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To: GeneD
What a terrific piece of work by a bright, dedicated, but ordinary American. The main thing I do with my time is to write. I would sue the socks off of anyone who claimed to be quoting me, but took the obscene liberty of changing my words because they thought someone "might be offended."

Dick Gregory entitled his autobiography, Nigger, Nigger, precisely to make a point. Would the Board of Regents change that to Negro, Negro? Or perhaps this, which comes trippingly off the tongue, African-American, African-American?

The New York Regents Exam writers have just demonstrated that they are as dumb as a box of rocks, and as useless as tits on a bull. And you can quote me.

Congressman Billybob

Click for latest, "Home of the Rocket Boys."

42 posted on 06/01/2002 7:04:33 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
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To: concerned about politics
I guess the Regents are becoming like the NAEP tests that th feds want to foist on school kids everywhere. Unfortunately, from what I've read, the NAEP measures ATTITUDES, not academic knowledge, so many, many students (private and home schooled) will have a difficult time passing them.
43 posted on 06/01/2002 7:06:51 PM PDT by ladylib
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To: GeneD
The State Education Department, which prepares the exams, acknowledged modifying excerpts to satisfy elaborate "sensitivity review guidelines" that have been in use for decades, but are periodically revised. It said it did not want any student to feel ill at ease while taking the test.

It's time the State Education Department be revised.
44 posted on 06/01/2002 7:10:12 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: GeneD
The State Education Department, which prepares the exams, acknowledged modifying excerpts to satisfy elaborate "sensitivity review guidelines" that have been in use for decades, but are periodically revised. It said it did not want any student to feel ill at ease while taking the test.

It's time the State Education Department be revised.
45 posted on 06/01/2002 7:10:26 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: VOA
What is it with Hillary? How in holy heck can New Yorkers fall for her??? I just don't understand it.
46 posted on 06/01/2002 7:10:55 PM PDT by livius
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To: GeneD
Excellent post! Everyone FReeper & their friends/relatives should read
The Cloning of the American Mind Eradicating Morality Through Education
by B.K. Eakman, Huntington House Publishers

Find out the entire story of our education system and who the players are who are purposely trying to destroy the US culture through our youth. HOW did it happen in Russia, in China? and is happening here! Centuries of culture gone in 50.
47 posted on 06/01/2002 7:22:44 PM PDT by Libertina
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To: Summer
Another education outrage, Summer.
48 posted on 06/01/2002 7:24:42 PM PDT by Libertina
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To: GeneD
This is reminiscent of a song parody by Stan Freberg called "Elderly Man River." I believe that it was done in the summer of 1957.

The gist of the skit (it was aired on CBS radio) was that Mr. Freberg was continually interrupted as he tried to sing "Old Man River" by an individual who insisted that none of the lyrics could be permitted to offend anyone.

Rather prescient, it seems. It's a pity that Mr. Freberg is no longer engaged in lampooning such nonsense.

49 posted on 06/01/2002 7:36:34 PM PDT by forsnax5
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To: aruanan
"It's time the State Education Department be revised."

Eliminated, and the people who work there deported to some Euro country where this kind of PC nonsence is tolerated.

50 posted on 06/01/2002 7:38:18 PM PDT by monday
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