Politically Correct Selection (Flashback)
After unpacking some boxes today, I came across an old anthology of short stories titled Breakthrough XV: An Anthology of Student Writing (2005). I had completely forgotten that I had submitted this story and won entry in my school district’s annual publication. After reading it I was delighted by the humour and wit of my grade 9 year old self – one of the few times where one is impressed by thinking on one’s younger version. The story was clearly influenced by several Yes Minister episodes, including the Equal Opportunities and The Smoke Screen episodes. This means I must already been watching Yes Minister with my father at at least the age of fourteen. Again, I am impressed my teenage-self picked up on so many of the amusing dynamics of bureaucratic decision making. There’s also some references to Public Choice Theory and the Importance of Being Earnest, although I am sure I was not aware of these at the time.
LADY BRACKNELL: … I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?
JACK: [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
LADY BRACKNELL: I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
Below is a facsimile of the story.
Politically Correct Selection
The light thud reverberated through the room as a book fell on the table.
“So then,” spoke the principal in a gruff voice. “What about this one?”
“What’s it called then?” asked the English teacher, weary from the hours of looking for a new curriculum novel.
The principal replied, “It’s called ‘Jill of Green Stables.’ Apparently it’s some famous book. It won the Governor General’s award for the most politically correct setting. Personally I think it is unacceptable. You have this strong willed girl who lives a harsh life then becomes someone famous.”
“My god! Think of what would happen to our ‘Ego in the Classroom’ contract,” stated the counselor. “The last thing we need is some girl setting a realistic example that the boys can’t achieve.”
“Well clearly this is unacceptable,” said the principal. “While I assume we all agree that there is nothing wrong with a girl becoming famous, there would be too many implications to consider. But I would like to hear what the other panel members think.”
“Obviously, the English department supports this book. All of us here agree with it in principle but logically it wouldn’t work out well. Too many connotations of anti-authoritarianism. Especially at a time like this, it wouldn’t be suitable,” stated the head of the English department.
“This is a great story to be read at Elementary schools. Naturally we would have to dumb it down to the children’s level of understanding. Yet, once it becomes that simple I think the point has been lost, considering the greatness of such a book like this,” stated the Elementary school representative.
“What does the anti-gender discrimination group think?” asked the principal?
An old man slowly stated, “Well, um, … We can’t have something like that. Think of the unions. The um, parents. Feminists. Wouldn’t work out well I assume, I think, I don’t really know.”
This was followed by a series of agreeing grunts and bobbing heads.
“Well I’m glad we got that settled. Perhaps we could move on to the more touchy subject of the infamous book, ‘The Adventures of Little Timmy’. As you know, it won the Governor General’s award for the most Canadian sounding title.”
“I’d first like to say that there is no place in the classroom for homosexual innuendos!” said the English representative.
“I completely concur. We can’t have horrible themes that suggest inappropriate things, like when little Timmy was picking oranges at the farm,” said the Elementary school representative.
“My god!” said the counselor. “Could you imagine the outrage by the parents? We almost had our heads chopped off by the ministry when we allowed ‘The Four Country Bears’. Four bears, one bed, not natural.”
“Not right,” murmured the other members of the group.
“I think we have a global agreement on this one,” said the principal. Nods and headshakes were readily exchanged.
“Well then I think we found the perfect book, ‘Anne Air’. It’s marvelous I hear. But perhaps the English department could elaborate,” said the principal.
“I think it follows the perfect formula, the ‘UOD’,” said the English representative.
“What does that mean?” asked the Math representative.
“Oh, it’s very simple: the unread, outdated, and too difficult for the average child. Teachers will be lucky if their students get past the first chapter. The book bombards you with out of date English that’s so monotonous they just might set the book of fire.”
“How marvelous!” replied the bloated anti-gender discrimination representative. “That’s how the school system should be. We give the kids what they need and we get the reward of illiteracy.”
“Are you crazy? You just stated how the kids will hate the book. But now you say the kids need it?!” exclaimed the Math representative.
“My dear fiend,” said the English representative looing at the Math representative in the eye. “It is up to the administrators to help the poor children learn their ABC’s. Kids like to be told what to do. Putting them into a claustrophobic environment creates the perfect mentality for healthy learning.”
“Of course,” mumbled the group.
“Shouldn’t we be convincing them that coming to school if fun, and that when you learn it is rewarding?” asked the Math representative.
“This is outrageous!” said the English teacher. “The whole entire society functions because they like to do what we tell them to do. By taking this away you’ll be promoting vigilantes, free thinkers, progressive liberals, and a slew of upsetting personalities.”
“Well then explain how promoting illiteracy is good?”
“It’s the same reason why we still sell cigarettes. Could you imagine if people lived perfectly healthy long lives? The health costs would be outrageous. If we kill them while they’re young it saves the taxpayers money. Illiteracy is also a great answer. Now the students’ drive for knowledge is limited so we spend less and less money for teaching kids anything intelligent. This saves on costs like text books, computers, toilet paper, stationary, science equipment, science, and of course math.”
“Not to mention that now kids are talking of their cell phones, which causes brain damage; watching television, which causes seizures; skateboarding, which results in lots of bodily damage; and finally playing video games which causes obesity, which is great for the ‘Stay Healthy Program’ which is funded through the ‘Ego in the Classroom’ foundation,” stated the Elementary school representative.
“Even if they could learn something intelligent how is this possible when the administrators say what is good and what is not?” asked the Math representative.
“We are not here to provide the censorship required. We are simply the representation of the global collection of the community,” said the English representative.
“How can that be when you tell the community what to think?”
“Nonsense! We tell the community what they’re thinking when they’re not thinking it so it doesn’t make them have to think. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
“Well I think enough has been said here,” said the principal. “Let’s move to the other book: ‘The French patient.’”
“Has it won a Governor General’s award?” asked the Elementary school representative?
“No, I’m afraid this one has actually been read,” said the English representative. “The question is, how will Québec react?”
“Not too well, I’m afraid. They’re in one of their moods: we don’t want something but we don’t want anyone else to have it either,” said the Elementary school representative.
“So then I guess that we aren’t going to be able to give the library ‘The French Patient’,” stated the English representative.
“My god!” exclaimed the counselor. “Could you imagine a book with the title ‘French’ in it written by a non-Québécois?”
“Not to mention they would probably have had the book’s title changed to ‘The Québec patient’,” added the English representative.
“Well,” stated the principal “I think we should move onto the final book on our agenda, ‘Little Shack in the Ghetto’.”
“Well I’m afraid this book is not looking to good,” said the English representative. “On the one hand you have a story of a kid going through high school. But, on the other, she is a slightly overweight kid who becomes a Goth and disobeys the school uniform code.”
“We can’t have those types of ragamuffins parading through books,” said the anti-gender discrimination representative.
“The weight issue will set off way too many issues: bulimia, anorexia, and ugliness,” added the Elementary school representative.
“Also no one likes overweight people,” said the English representative as he reached for a cookie. “They’re like smokers. No one likes to see them so we put them in an isolated corner where it is very cold. As for fat people you never see them on television. It’s rather upsetting to look at them.”
“Especially with the scandalously risqué clothing they wear. As for the Goths, well I don’t think we here support the idea,” said the Elementary school representative.
“The last thing I want is a Goth trying to open a portal to hell on my blackboard,” wheezed the anti-gender discrimination representative.
“Well, we have professionally managed to sort out the good from the bad. I think the school board will be very pleased with our screening. Though we have varied thoughts on each book I think this is the best rounded group I have had to work with. Each of our insights provides a different perspective on each subject. Even though Anne Air has been selected for the curriculum eighteen times in a row I think it was the wisest choice,” concluded the principal.
“Yes, I’m very pleased with our choice today. As you know, they say a good classic never dies,” stated the English representative.
“Even with their limited capacity, I think the elementary students will enjoy it,” added the Elementary school representative.
“Yes, um, definitely a great stride for equal gender relations,” summed up the anti-gender discrimination representative.
“My god! At least we won’t have to worry about offending subjects like Goths, Gays, and multiple coloured dads,” said the counselor.
“Well at least we have managed to keep the French happy,” added the Math representative.