August 31, 2006

Complaining about the "diversity dogmatists."

Jeff Jacoby has a column in the Boston Globe railing about the way "diversity dogmatists" have imposed requirement on school textbooks to depict disabled children and children of different races and ethnic groups (and have also banned some stereotypical images like Asians in glasses and Mexicans in sombreros).
By reducing "diversity" to something as shallow and meaningless as appearance, they reinforce the most dehumanizing stereotypes of all -- those that treat people first and foremost as members of racial, ethnic, or social groups. Far from acknowledging the genuine complexity and variety of human life, the diversity dogmatists deny it. Is it any wonder that their methods so often lead to unhappy and unhealthy results?
I think Jacoby is overdoing it here. I don't know why textbooks need to have so many illustrations and photographs in them in the first place, but that's a different issue. If you are going to fill up the pages with pictures of kids instead of useful information and analysis, you might as well display diversity and of course you should avoid the stereotypes.

When I went to school, we were constantly looking at pictures of Dick, Jane, Sally, and Mother and Father, and they were all white and complete stereotypes of the blandest possible middle class American life. The diversity pictures of today are just a variation on the idea well-meaning adults have that they must feed inoffensive pablum to kids. I don't see how it's unhealthy in the way Jacoby is talking about though. We're talking about pictures. Of course, they're going to show what things look like on the surface.

There is another, more serious matter that Jacoby touches on, which is the manipulation of the text to favor "diversity" stories:
[W]hen reality conflicts with political correctness, reality gets the boot.

So, on occasion, does historical perspective, as for example when a McGraw-Hill US history text devoted a profile and photograph to Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot -- but neglected even to mention Wilbur and Orville Wright. "A company spokesman," the Journal reports dryly, "said the brothers had been left out inadvertently."
I'm taking that phrase "on occasion" to mean Jacoby didn't encounter enough of this sort of thing to highlight in his column. (Note what he does highlight: the terribly unshocking news that the children photographed in wheelchairs are often models who aren't -- as Jacoby politically incorrectly puts it -- "confined to wheelchairs.") There's nothing wrong with finding some heroines and heroes to offer some special inspiration to some children. But you can't do it too much or it's just obvious propaganda that isn't even going to work. It's fine to get out the message to young kids that, for example, a black woman can be a pilot.

When I went to school there was nothing like that. In fact, I was never given a shred of information that women could do anything not traditionally female. I can tell you horror stories, like the way my trigonometry teacher advised me not to take calculus because it's "for engineers" -- without the slightest acknowledgement that I might consider becoming an engineer (and I was the best student in her class).

But a textbook shouldn't be stuffed with inspirational material. It should make the subject itself an inspiration. Showing me a woman pilot is one thing, but making aviation fascinating is much more effective (and educational). Seeing a lady in a lab coat smiling at a test tube might tip you off that a woman can be a scientist, but the textbook ought to engage students to read and understand the science itself. A kid ought to decide to become a scientist out of real interest in science, not because she has become enamored of the image of herself as a scientist.

If you want to talk about happiness -- few things can make you as happy as genuine, deep interest in your work. Quit luring us into the shallow, narcissistic existence where we only think about how we look doing something. Make us see what is so intrinsically compelling about the work .

30 comments:

George said...

Showing racial diversity in textbooks is great. However, taking such depictions to comical extremes illustrates the dangerous degree to which we have become obsessed with political correctness at the expense of other moral values, such as patriotism.

Consider this letter I received yesterday from my child's elementary school principal about the Pledge of Allegiance:

"Each morning, we invite all students and staff who wish to participate to stand and do so. Teachers have talked with their classes about the fact that not all students may wish to say the pledge, for a variety of different reasons. Students who wish to abstain will not be required to stand or recite the pledge. We ask that you also have a conversation with your child(ren) about your family's approach to the pledge, and if you wish for your child(ren) not to recite it, please let them know. If you would like them to stand and not recite, that is also an option they have. Teachers do not need to be informed by you of your preference, as they will respect the actions of the children during that time. It is our intention to have all students feel that their family's wishes and beliefs are being honored, and we appreciate your help as we implement this new part of our day."

Based on the above, you would think that a third of the children were Quakers, another third hailed from North Korea, and the rest were the local Taliban kids.

In the above quote, I count four times the principal uses the verb "wish." Yes, la, la, la. God forbid, excuse me, goodess forbid, someone's wishes might not be taken into account. Our country is more than just a wish-fulfillment machine. School is also about learning duties and responsibilities as citizens. Yes, yes one child in a thousand or ten thousand may have valid deeply held religious political or religious beliefs preventing them from saying the Pledge of Allegiance, but that we go to such extremes to protect the tender, sensitive "wishes" of minuscule minorities is comical.

But I'm certainly glad that my third-grader did her term paper last year on Oprah Winfrey. Can you imagine a third-grader in 1975 doing a term paper on Mike Douglas, the heroic Irish-American talk show host?

AllenS said...

From the article: "Well, you can always do what Houghton Mifflin does. The well-known textbook publisher keeps a wheelchair on hand as a prop and hires able-bodied children from a modeling agency to pose in it. It keeps colorful pairs of crutches on hand, too -- in case a child model turns out to be the wrong size for the wheelchair."

Perhaps the black female pilot, featured in the article, wasn't, you know, black, but from the same modeling agency.

Notice, that he also pointed out that your university also docktered a photo to include a black man in the picture, that wasn't originally there.

I thought his article was about what lengths the PC crowd will go to, to show diversity.

Goesh said...

Well said!

Gahrie said...

I refer you to the words of Fabian Nunez speaker of California's Assembly:

"The real purpose of SB 1437 is to outlaw traditional perspectives on marriage and family in the state school system."He continued, "The way you correct a wrong (perspective) is by outlawing.’Cause if you don't outlaw it, then people's biases tend to take over and dominate the perspective and the point of view."

And this is not just a problem for California, because California drives the textbook market, and policies here effect the rest of the country.

Nunez's candor unwittingly exposes two tenets of the far left:

1) The use of public schools to inculcate and indoctrinate our children in their farleft ideology.

2) The need for Liberals and other leftists to silence their opponents rather than engage them.

MadisonMan said...

Notice, that he also pointed out that your university also docktered a photo to include a black man in the picture, that wasn't originally there.

As reported here. Boy was that a clumsy photoshop.

Glenn Howes said...
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Glenn Howes said...

I'm taking that phrase "on occasion" to mean Jacoby didn't encounter enough of this sort of thing to highlight in his column

I don't know if this is obvious or not, but the linked article has little original research by Jacoby. It is based largely on a front page article in the Wall Street Journal from last week (DANIEL GOLDEN
August 19, 2006; Page A1)

Here is an interesting quote from the original article:

Because photos of FDR and other people in wheelchairs can be hard to come by, publishers maximize the visibility of each image, worrying not just about numbers but placement on the page. "Make sure physically challenged people are visible enough to comply with state requirements" and "appear on right-hand pages for a 'thumb test,' " McGraw-Hill 2004 guidelines advise. Translation: Time-pressed state officials sometimes use their thumbs to flip through the pages speedily looking for images of minorities or the disabled. Generally, this results in examining only the right-hand pages.

Robert Burnham said...

A number of years ago, I worked as a consulting editor and content specialist for a series of grade school books on physical sciences for McGraw-Hill.

Every photo with a kid in it had a written specification that detailed its diversity breakdown. These would say typically something like "Asian-featured boy in wheelchair" or "African-American girl with lab hardware" or the like.

At first I was startled -- actually, I was shocked -- by the blatant description, then cynically amused. It struck me that if maintaining PC requires reality to be so carefully stage-managed, it (PC) has little chance of survival.

The Drill SGT said...

The irony of this topic is nearly too heavy to comment on, but WTH:

A great example of this PC'ness with regard to the disabled was the FDR memorial. As most of you know FDR was disabled with severe leg problems, which he went to great lengths to hide from the people in the normal course of events, but which of course people were aware of at the time.

And FDR was a chain smoker.

So when it came time to do the a bronze statue of FDR, they went back to old photos and wanted something that would display his disability, but couldn't find any shots. It seems that the WH photo crew didn't shoot FDR in compromising positions, and surprise by today's standards, neither did the WH Press Corps. (oh, how times have changed)

So what was done was to doctor (think photoshop in bronze) a real life photo image as the basis of the sculpture to reveal that FDR was sitting in a wheel chair (FDR used a normal chair with wheels to avoid the appearance of being in a wheel chair of course.

Then after altering reality to add his disability, they went on to excise the fact that the photo showed him holding a cigarette.

amazing.

Simon said...

Even assuming, arguendo, that we should spend time worrying about what is or is not politically correct, I'm not sure I understand why it is politically incorrect for Jacoby to describe the class of people who are confined to a wheelchair as persons who are "confined to wheelchairs."

Perhaps this is illustrative of the very worst feature of political correctness, which is the creeping euphemism. George Carlin has an absolutely lacerating skit about this truly pernicious practise. Apropos, thirty years ago, "persons confined to wheelchairs" would have been considered a politically correct euphemism for "cripples." But now, that euphemism is so widespread that it has itself (apparently) become politically incorrect. We will have to come up with a new euphemism: "persons choosing to make use of mobility assistance devices," perhaps.

Bruce Hayden said...

I guess that the depth of my cynicism is evident in how I no longer get upset at this sort of thing.

I am though much unhappier with the concentration in so many history books on diversity of stories versus diversity of the pictures. The reality is that most of the really relevant history was made by dead white males, throwing in some Asian males when we get to world history and the Mongols. But the founding fathers were all male. The generals in each of our wars (up until now) were male, and mostly white.

So, what it seems like you end up in many of these situations is concentrating on what really isn't history and wasn't as important, and not what really was. And, thus, the example of showing a Black airwoman, instead of the Wright Brothers. That sort of thing.

The good thing is that in another generation, they aren't going to have to concentrate on minor blips in history in order to portray women and minorities as being central to it. We now have a female Secretary of State, following another African-American. Black and Hispanic generals are now common. I fully expect a female president in the next decade or two, as well as one who is either Hispanic or Black.

Glenn Howes said...

Following up on my post earlier about state officials judging text books by thumbing through and bean counting ethnicity.

A year ago, I was writing software for the elementary school market. The products we produced were of professional quality, educational, attractive, reasonably engaging, and based upon research into how children learn math. They were the product of a number of talented people: researchers, programmers, artists, actors and producers; everyone interested in making a product that would actually help children learn math, especially the special needs children.

I worked very hard for a year and a half of my life polishing products which I hope will give hundreds of thousands of kids a leg up in understanding math; for some the software might be the difference between being employable and not.

It is distressing to think of how little state purchasing agents think of our products if they were to judge our product by the primary criteria of how many brown faces they saw on the cover of the instruction manual.

altoids1306 said...

The real question to ask diversity dogmatists is "Under what set of circumstances would you consider the world 'fair' or 'diverse'?"

The most likely answer "When every profession and socio-economic class is represented by ethnicity and gender proportional to population demographics."

Never mind such insignificant factors like free will, biology, and culture.

Only two outcomes are possible:

1. People will remain (somewhat) free, to work, to hire, to choose schools and neighborhoods, and to write textbooks as they wish, to the eternal dissatisfaction of diversity advocates.

2. Diversity advocates accumulate enough power to realize their vision through coersion. They're already halfway there.

tjl said...

"if maintaining PC requires reality to be so carefully stage-managed, it (PC) has little chance of survival."

That's what everyone has been thinking since PC's inception decades ago. Somehow it never happens.

Richard Dolan said...

Jacoby's story highlights the superficiality of this "diversity" exercise. It's harmful in the same what it's harmful to confuse a fairy tale with history -- all this happy-face diversity stuff offers a false picture of reality, and kids are quite likely to be pretty quick in figuring that out. I suppose the point of the exercise is to get kids to broaden their horizons, to recognize that they can overcome handicaps or problems and can ultimately control their own destiny and life choices if they are willing to work at it. I don't see how a few pictures in a textbook can do anything useful to accomplish that goal, but I don't have a problem with the goal. Ann's take on it sounds right: "Showing me a woman pilot is one thing, but making aviation fascinating is much more effective (and educational)."

37383938393839383938383 said...

AA: It's fine to get out the message to young kids that, for example, a black woman can be a pilot.

I agree that kids should be interested in a subject because of the subject's appeal (knowledge for knowledge's sake) and I also think images of children should reflect diversity without resorting to stereotypes (even cute ones, like depicting black children with flat-tops -- no black person has ever had a flat-top [note: the 1980s do not exist]!!!). But I also think that textbooks put coded messages in their images. A picture of a black female pilot early on in the history of aviation is likely communicating that despite the prevalence of sexism and racism at the time, this woman was able to defy social conventions and pursue her dream. What people object to is textbooks filled up with implications that the past was rife with racism and sexism, rather than accomplishments and discoveries. Likewise, the inclusion of a black female pilot, without including the Wright Brothers, or any black engineers from the period, is quite revealing. Merely flying a plane is not as historically important as engineering a plane or inventing a crucial part.

37383938393839383938383 said...

It's harmful in the same what it's harmful to confuse a fairy tale with history -- all this happy-face diversity stuff offers a false picture of reality

Thanks, Plato. I really enjoyed Books 3 and 4 of the Republic. But aren't you, uh, wrong? Are fairy tales bad simply because they are false? What if fairy tales consisted of plausible narratives that could become true in the likely future, but only if they were believed in ardently by a lot of people? Then, of course, they aren't "fairy tales"; they're political ideologies or political philosophies or dispositions. There's nothing wrong with using stories or images to cultivate a moral education or nudge our students into becoming enlightened cosmopolitans. The question is whether these textbooks do so and to what end. We shouldn't sacrifice learning for learning's sake just to promote racial integration.

Richard Dolan said...

CriticalO says: "Thanks Plato." Well, at least it's good company.

But, really, you seem to be off in the wild blue yonder (grad school perhaps?), having lost all contact with terra firma -- these are faked photos in grade school textbooks Jacoby is talking about.

You say: "What if fairy tales consisted of plausible narratives that could become true in the likely future, but only if they were believed in ardently by a lot of people? Then, of course, they aren't "fairy tales"; they're political ideologies or political philosophies or dispositions."

So the point of these faked photos in grade school textbooks is to convey "plausible narratives that could become true in the likely future" and "political ideologies," as opposed to, say, history or whatever the textbook is ostensibly about? Oh, boy. That's a thought, I suppose, but not a particularly apt or persuasive one.

Emerson once wrote that, in order to read well, one must first learn to put aside all of the cant (Harold Bloom offers a slight amendment, and suggests that "academic cant" is the real fog-generator today). Talk about "plausible narratives" and "political ideologies" in this context sounds like a textbook example of what Bloom had in mind.

AlaskaJack said...

On the plus side, Dick, Jane, Sally and Mother and Father showed a fuctional family. Maybe this is exactly what kids are missing today.

Pastor_Jeff said...

...thirty years ago, "persons confined to wheelchairs" would have been considered a politically correct euphemism for "cripples." But now, that euphemism is so widespread that it has itself (apparently) become politically incorrect. We will have to come up with a new euphemism: "persons choosing to make use of mobility assistance devices," perhaps.

Ahem. They are "differently abled."

Please try to keep up.

Hopefully, we will be able to replace those awful old children's books with this wonderfully enlightened resource.

Simon said...

I agree wholly with altoids1306. I was scratching my head this morning over Dahlia Lithwick's and the NYT's astonishing premise that the demographics of SCOTUS clerks is an issue (this is an issue Ann talked about months ago). I am not sure what difference a clerk's (or Justice's) gender makes to the question of whether the due process clause "prohibit[s] Arizona’s use of an insanity test stated solely in terms of the capacity to tell whether an act charged as a crime was right or wrong," Clark v. Arizona, whether a dam "raises [sufficient] potential for a discharge ... [that] §401 [of the Clean Water Act] is triggered and [thus] state certification is required," S.D. Warren Co. v. Maine Bd. of Environmental Protection, and while one's gender might, dubitante, have some effect on one's view of whether abortion should be protected by the Constitution, it should have no effect on one's view of whether it is, or still less, one's view of whether sections of a law restricting it are severable, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood. I do not see how the posession of either breasts or bollocks changes either the answer or the process of determing the answer to the question of whether "[a] plaintiff in a retaliatory-prosecution action must plead and show the absence of probable cause for pressing the underlying criminal charges," Hartman v. Moore, still less whether "[a] refusal to apply the Federal Tort Claims Act’s judgment bar is open to collateral appeal," Will v. Hallock. I know the adherents of living constitution believe that its meaning evolves with society, but what a truly astonishing feat that -- like the child's toy that shows a different image depending on from which angle it is viewed - its meaning changes depending on the gender of the interpreter.

Lithwick and the diversity dogmatists are absolutely wrong. The issue is not, as Lithwick contends, why Justices Scalia and Kennedy don't care about the gender of their clerks, it's what on Earth would motivate any to care. What a bizzare view of the law one must have in order to think that the gender of the clerk - as opposed to, say, their legal or political views - writing the cert pool memo for an ERISA case will change whether they think it is worth granting cert. What kind of bizarre parallel universe does Lithwick live in to believe that the meaning of RICO varies depending on whether a man or a woman looks at it. What is a "female" perspective on the Detainee Treatment Act? What is THE "female" opinion on third party standing? Aren't feminists supposed to be OPPOSED to the dehumanizing of women, OPPOSED to ascribing characteristics to persons based on gender, rather than doing everything possible to further such classifications?

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seven Machos said...

Textbooks are awful. No one reads them and they don't impart anything of any value. Lectures plus actual books are a lot better.

Why are there pictures in books past the fifth or sixth grade, anyway?

class-factotum said...

At least with the first Hispanic (which isn't even a race) to circumnavigate the globe, they get something actually historically significant.

But I suppose they consider Magellan an honorary "dead white European" guy.

T J Olson said...

Damit Anne, I'm a Lefthanded Tool of Lucifer! Can't 10% of America's outkast get our piece of the diversity pie, too?

Of course not! It's all about class, race, and gender.

The best analysis of the late-Marxist hokum is "American Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas"
by Dario Fernandez-Morera (Northwestern comp lot prof).

Simon said...

class-factotum said...
"But I suppose they consider Magellan an honorary "dead white European" guy."

Interesting point. If the diversity dogmatists of the left are as reactionary as they often appear -- that is, if the underlying motivation is iconoclasm and contrarianism -- then there is a pretty good argument from their perspective that Columbus and Magellan are dead white Europeans. Why? Because arguably, the diversity dogmatists are not objecting to the whiteness, deadness or europeanness of dead white europeans, but rather, the mere fact that they are venerated by traditional education. I thinkI'm suggesting that their goal is not diversity, any more than the goal of the liberals who tout tolerence is actually tolerence: the goal is power. The goal is to be the ones setting the agenda.

Gahrie said...

Why are there pictures in books past the fifth or sixth grade, anyway?


Because (unfortunately) today schools are expected to entertain students as well as educate them.

amba said...

I was never given a shred of information that women could do anything not traditionally female.

Yeah, me too.

It should make the subject itself an inspiration. Showing me a woman pilot is one thing, but making aviation fascinating is much more effective (and educational). Seeing a lady in a lab coat smiling at a test tube might tip you off that a woman can be a scientist, but the textbook ought to engage students to read and understand the science itself.

True, but if you never saw a picture of or heard of such a thing as a female pilot or scientist, your burgeoning interest in the subject might be nipped in the bud, or blighted -- almost subliminally.

Or, you'd express your interest by trying to marry a pilot or a scientist -- or encourage your son to be one. That stuff happened a lot in the fifties and early sixties.

I like Bruce Hayden's idea:

The good thing is that in another generation, they aren't going to have to concentrate on minor blips in history in order to portray women and minorities as being central to it. We now have a female Secretary of State . . .

Right, exactly. You're going to see images of women pilots, judges, etc. (you already do) not because someone is bending over backward to portray diversity, but because there simply are quite a lof of women pilots, judges, etc.

37383938393839383938383 said...

"Thanks Plato." Well, at least it's good company.

Not in Books 3 and 4. In those Books, Plato says we shouldn't teach children happy music, because it excites them too much, nor should we give them false stories. Obviously, this makes some sense: why tell them that Santa exists just to disappoint them? Why not simply tell them they get a gift? And I dislike those Barney songs. But philosophy has moved on since Plato -- Plato was likely being satirical in Books 3 and 4, and all it takes is common sense to know his argument is hilariously bad. Certainly telling people stories is useful get people to analyze issues without the baggage of reality. It is a rare principle of legal ethics, for example, that cannot be reduced to a myth or fable of Aesop. Plato's critique is that it false stories produce bad thinking; but false stories can be used to produce good thinking. Plato is also presuming that cold rationality is better than emotionally-tinged thought. But part of education is acquiring compassion and understanding other perspectives and the scientific method. If you approach everything analytically, then you certainly aren't approaching anything synthetically, which makes you useless for learning the scientific method, unable to understand another's position, and unlikely to develop compassion. It is notable that Plato talks very little about moral character in the Republic, other than to contest Thrasymachus' argument -- but Plato's retort is rather weak, and there is evidence that he purposely misinterpreted T's argument because he had no answer to it. So, no, he isn't in good company. His argument is pure bunk.

37383938393839383938383 said...

So the point of these faked photos in grade school textbooks is to convey "plausible narratives that could become true in the likely future"

Sure. "We live in a pluralistic society in which everyone's talents are respected." Perhaps it's not true; but perhaps we're better off with the next generation believing that is true and remaking the world in concord with that belief. It's called idealism, you idiot.