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.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.
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."
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 .