Should we make old stories politically correct for our children?

Tracey - posted on 03/12/2012 ( 42 moms have responded )

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I have my great Grandad's diary that he wrote while serving in the Navy during both world wars. As my children are studying this in History class I sent it to school. Teacher informed me that she couldn't use it or show it to the children as it has 2 offensive terms in it. They refer to the first time my Grandad saw an African American and the first time he saw an oriental person. These are not curse words, but relate to the gentlemens' appearance. Back in the 1920s England was pretty much 100% white, it was unusual for my Grandad to see people from other cultures so he described them in a way he thought was accurate.



Teacher has asked if I can rewrite the diary removing these terms.

I have refused as it is not my diary and I am not going to deface a 100 year old book. I find the descriptions of POW camps and the mass murder in concentration camps far more upsetting than 3 words describing the colour of someone's skin



There have also been reports suggesting that Huckleberry Finn be rewritten without the N word. These books reflect the attitudes and language of the time and although the words and ideas may be offensive now does that mean we should erase them from literature?



Should we sanitise books before giving them to children?



Thoughts?

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Mrs. - posted on 03/12/2012

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Here is a quote from the NAACP about Huck Finn:



Although state NAACP organizations have supported various protests against the book, the NAACP national headquarters' current position paper states:



"You don't ban Mark Twain-you explain Mark Twain! To study an idea is not necessarily to endorse the idea. Mark Twain's satirical novel, Huckleberry Finn, accurately portrays a time in history-the nineteenth century-and one of its evils, slavery."

Sylvia - posted on 03/24/2012

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Tracey, I think you were right not to agree to rewrite the diary, and the teacher was overreacting. From the reaction you described I was expecting much worse epithets! Do we want our kids to use terms like "darkie" and "slitty-eyed"? Of course not. But honestly I think the descriptions you quote are pretty neutral in character. There are lots of ways the teacher could handle those passages to make clear that (a) people used these terms 60-70 years ago, without necessarily meaning anything bad by them, and (b) we do not use them now because they are considered offensive. Things change; that's part of the reason we study history.



I like the NAACP's take on Huckleberry Finn -- "don't ban, explain!" I still remember my dad explaining the whole issue to me when we were reading through Mark Twain; I was about six or seven. Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful book with a profoundly anti-slavery message; it's throwing the baby out with the bathwater in a big way to decide it's offensive because it uses the N-word, or because it portrays slavery as the normal order of things. That's the POINT. Slavery *was* normal ... but it was also deeply, irretrievably immoral. Huck believes, because he's been told so all his life, that he'll go to Hell if he helps Jim escape; he DOES IT ANYWAY, because Jim is his friend, and in so doing proves himself a better person than those who look down on him.



I remember coming across a pretty awful passage in Little House on the Prairie when I was reading it to DD a few years ago. We had to stop the book and have a discussion about how Euro-American (and Euro-Canadian) settlers in the 1800s saw First Nations people, and vice versa, and how come the settlers thought it was okay to just come and take land that someone else was already living on, and how we're all still living with the consequences of those attitudes and actions ... and that was a pretty tricky conversation. But you can't not read great books just because they have some not-so-great stuff in them, and confronting it and dealing with it is always more productive than reflexively avoiding it.



That said ... there are some books I hope DD never has occasion to read, because the values they convey make me want to hurl and there's not much to them in the way of redeeming qualities :P. I won't censor them, but I sure wouldn't want to encourage them. The Elsie Dinsmore books, for example, and the Twilight series, and certain Enid Blytons that just go way OTT with the racist and/or sexist schtick.

Becky - posted on 03/13/2012

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Oh good grief! I was thinking he used much worse descriptions than those! Unless the children were very young, as a parent, I would not be bothered in the least by a teacher reading those descriptions to my children. It is clear from his descriptions that he wasn't even being critical of them, he was actually describing them quite positively, he just used a few words that we no longer consider politically correct. I would explain to my children that those terms could be offensive and that there were better ways to describe people and we would talk about racism, but honestly, I don't even really think he was being racist.



As for other literature and history, no, I don't think we should sanitize it. What is that quote, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." How can we learn from history if chunks of it are left out or whitewashed? I agree with introducing and explaining things age-appropriately - I wouldn't introduce the N word to my 4 year old just to tell him it's not a nice word, but when he has the reading skills to read Huck Finn or studies it in school, we will talk about that time in history and the wrongs that were done, not gloss over it and pretend it never happened.

[deleted account]

"Should we sanitise books before giving them to children?"



I guess it depends. I'd love to sanitize the Bible befroe they give that book to children although it would be a pretty short book at that point of some psalsm, maybe.

[deleted account]

Well, let me begin by saying that I agree with you 100% about not rewriting ANY part of that diary. In essence, to do that, would be like editing Anne Frank's diary because now, in today's terms, something may be considered not PC. Fuck that. Keep that diary just as it is and consider it a treasure. You own a piece of history.



As for Huck Finn being re-written? I think it's distasteful and just plain wrong. Would anyone go back and repaint the Sistine Chapel? Re-build the pyramids? Re-write Shakespere? Fuck no, they wouldn't. Huckleberry Finn is a very close to accurate picture of a horrible time in our history and it should not be clouded in any way or changed one bit. When men seek to re-write history, we are bound to repeat it. I want my son to grow up knowing the good, the bad and the ugly about ALL of our past, as world wide citizens, all of it. I can't even believe they're talking about doing any of this shit. Really. Next thing you know the fucking Mona Lisa is gonna have a full blown grin and a cell in her hand. /eyeroll

42 Comments

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Karla - posted on 03/24/2012

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No, I don't think that diary should be edited at all. What a wonderful primary source you have there! I think the teacher could use those words as a lesson on vocabulary at that time in history and how and why we came to stop using those words. (stereotypes, generalizations, impersonal, negative connotations, etc.)

♥♪Megan♫♥ - posted on 03/21/2012

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We had them come into my high school too. One woman talked about how she'd seen SS men killing babies. It's quite horrid.



I haven't watched that documentary.

Mother - posted on 03/21/2012

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It's heartbreaking...isn't it. and to think we still have people who try to say the Holocaust never happened. When I was in high school we had holocaust survivors come to the school. I wept for them. Have you ever watched the documentary "Paper Clips"?? Awesome....but so sad.

♥♪Megan♫♥ - posted on 03/21/2012

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I don't even want to watch History X! Once was enough.



I let my daughter read books on the holocaust- she's already met people who have survived it (She asked one of my residents why he had numbers on his arm and he told her) We do our children a great disservice if we sanitize history for them.

Mother - posted on 03/21/2012

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Thanks Jackie....sometimes I go a weeeee bit overboard. I gallop into town on my high horse and forget to check with my brain before opening my mouth. LOL

**Jackie** - posted on 03/21/2012

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Mother Bacher, as I was reading your article I found it hard to scroll down to finish it because my hands were too busy CLAPPING. :) Well said

Mother - posted on 03/21/2012

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Absolutely NOT!! I think it is important for kids to see the differences in these times we live and the times that are past. the whole nonsense about Huck Fin is infuriating. We can't sugar coat the past.....we need to show our youth that there was a time where things were unacceptable. We need to show them so those mistakes are never made again. We need to show them that there are VALID reasons that many cultures hate the white man and rightfully so. White man is greedy. We take things that don't belong to us and think we shouldn't be reprimanded for it. We stole land from our Native peoples. Their women and children were raped....camps burned...land ceased.....their buffalo made extinct. We used our African Americans as slaves...beat them....used them....killed them and for what?? The colour of their skin. I think our history teachers need to be MORE detailed in their discussions. Let their older elementary children watch the KKK ceremonies....watch History X and Mississippi burning. Let them watch the war documentaries where soldiers beat, raped, burned innocent civilians in villages.



Our peoples of different colour have every right to hate the white man......and our future white men and women need to know why.



ETA:: "The Diary of Anne Frank"--one of my all time favourite books. In my rant I forgot to mention that the Attack on Women's Rights should also be discussed at length.....so our young girls can see how far we've come and how much further we still need to go.

♥♪Megan♫♥ - posted on 03/19/2012

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Jackie she is! We were at an amusement park once and this lady wouldn't give her some mayonaise in a cup. She goes: 'it's because I'm Black isn't it!' after the woman finally gave her the mayonaise. I said: You aren't Black, you're OBAMA black!



DH is a Heinz 57, he has 7 different nationalities including French and he keeps talking about whiney French bastards over in QC (We live in BC) I keep pointing out he's part French himself and he says, yeah but I'm not from Quebec.

**Jackie** - posted on 03/19/2012

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lol my husband is part Cherokee and he once stole my faaaaavorite coffee mug to pour his gross Mountain Dew in. Since he had bought me this mug I called him an indian giver lol I'm terrible. Your SIL sounds funny lol I'm glad your brother thinks it's funny.

♥♪Megan♫♥ - posted on 03/18/2012

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LOL Jackie! My SIL is bi-racial and she calls my brother a cracker sometimes just to tease him.



My great aunt also used to say I behiaved like a wild Indian when I would keep getting up and down. I'm 1/2 first nation. But I wasn't bothered by it. I was little. Heck, some kid in my grade 1 class asked me if I lived in a Tipi and I looked at him like he was stupid and slowly explained I was adopted then explained what that meant.

Lacye - posted on 03/18/2012

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Tracey from what I saw, your great grandfather was a pretty good writer. He probably wasn't trying to be offensive like the teacher thought. I think she just needs to get over it. There are plenty of other words out there that are way worse than what he said!

**Jackie** - posted on 03/15/2012

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Good question Megan. I'm assuming that what is offensive to one person is not to another. People also make up their own words to offend someone. If someone honestly called me a cracker during a fight I would have to stop and laugh...not sure why that might hurt someone's feelings.



People are very sensitive in general. Between slavery, political and religious views, and even parenting methods. It's almost like people will look for something in your statement to be considered offensive so they can pull the victim card.

♥♪Megan♫♥ - posted on 03/15/2012

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What I don't understand is if it's offensive to call an Asian person an Oriental (my great aunt used that word til the day she died) why is it on ramen noodle packages and called a flavour?

**Jackie** - posted on 03/15/2012

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I just HAD to read that passage to my husband. He is a history nut! Thanks for sharing! That teacher doesn't know what she's missing!



In all honesty...she could have either cut that part out of changed the couple of offensive words.

♥♪Megan♫♥ - posted on 03/14/2012

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Nope, now bring on the Grimm's fairy tales with witches roasting children and the step sisters cutting off their toes and ankles to fit into shoes.

Tracey - posted on 03/14/2012

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This is a class of 10 - 11 year olds, teacher finishes lessons 15 minutes before the end of the day and reads a book to the kids. Thought this diary would be interesting for them and as some of you had said she could choose which passages to read.

[deleted account]

If my Catholic elementary school could teach The Diary of Anne Frank by skipping over certain sections, I don't see why this teacher couldn't do the same. Seriously, she couldn't find a passage or two to read from it and be done with it?

[deleted account]

no i don't think so. people get so caught up in trying to censor their kid's and just need to relax.

**Jackie** - posted on 03/13/2012

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OH COME ON! Wah wah wah! Enough already! IT'S is just a word!!!! If a 2 syllable word upsets or offends people than they should seriouslyyyyy walk around with ear plugs! Grow a damn back bone people!



I feel better...anyway...no I do not think books should be rewritten.



Where do you draw the line? Are Hansel and Gretel going to be thrown in a pile of rainbows and sunshine instead of an oven?

Minnie - posted on 03/13/2012

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I don't. We read Beatrix Potter, which are full of animal 'children' being whipped. We also read nursery rhymes that include cruelty as well.



It's history, and I don't gloss over it. We just talk about it.

Krista - posted on 03/13/2012

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Oh geeeeez...after reading what was actually in the diary, I really don't know what the teacher was so worried about! I'd even read that to younger kids, and just explain that these are his words upon first seeing someone of another ethnicity. I love his descriptions! It's a lot more eloquent than the first time my brother saw a black man (at about age 3...we live in a predominately white area) and he screamed "MOM HE'S BLACK HE'S BLACK!" from the shopping cart lol

Brittany - posted on 03/13/2012

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Just so you know I have not read all of the comments and I am sure this has been said but, maybe you all can come to an agreement on what is shared with the children.



I can understand not wanting to say the words to be PC but, this is History we are talking about. This is part of life. Nothing is more exciting about history then to hear it come to life. To be able to place a face to a real story is BY FAR more important then being PC.



I am sure there are millions of wonderful things in there the children can learn and retain that having nothing to do with the two individuals he, kindly, spoke of. Minus the words he used he seemed to acknowledge them being kind to him.



I would go through and choose a few dates to read from.

Tracey - posted on 03/13/2012

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The terms used (and apologies if these are offensive) were

A darkie (offensive) with the biggest smile, full of teeth so white they shone from his mouth in contrast to the blackness of his skin with the radiance of a full moon on a cloudless night.

and A slitty eyed (offensive) boy so welcoming and eager to embrace a stranger not only to his family but to his country, a land alive with new colours, sounds, tastes and more adventures than a weary traveller could dream of.

Stifler's - posted on 03/12/2012

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NO. Because it was acceptable back then and reading that type of language reinforces why it's not acceptable now. It just causes ignorance to sanitise history.

Johnny - posted on 03/12/2012

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I am totally opposed to banning or sanitizing books. They are tools for learning the lessons of the past. You explain why things were different and what we have learned, you don't avoid it. That just dooms us to repeat our mistakes again.



How it would be handled should really depend on the age of the children. If my kids were much more than 10, I would be infuriated if they were in an educational system or had a teacher so gutless to avoid these vital issues. I do not want my children to grow up as ignorant bigots. I learned all about racism, slavery, the holocaust, Japanese internment, Indian residential schools, head taxes, and other such issues in school. I notice that people from places that don't touch upon these issues in school seem to have a great deal more problems with bigotry.

Shaz - posted on 03/12/2012

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no i dont think so.... i think we have all gone P.C mad...... I do think though that they need to be taught and read in context..... books like huckleberry fin opens up heaps of discussions about slavery etc

Mrs. - posted on 03/12/2012

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No, I don't think so, in the case of Huck Finn or any other classic books.



However, I think if you are going to teach these books, you must talk about the usage of the word in the context of the time and our current culture. It is an opportunity to educate and communicate about racism and the evolution of cultural norms.



I can't speak on the diary, as I haven't read it and have no idea if it offers an opportunity to learn about these things in a classroom environment. Generally, though I don't like censorship.

MeMe - Raises Her Hand (-_-) (Mommy Of A Toddler And Teen) - posted on 03/12/2012

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I don't think erasing history is the best thing. I however, find any of those terms much harder to hear and swallow than an actual curse word (I love my curse words). They are absolutely unacceptable in my household.



I think teachers should still be able to use these literatures but I think they should be changing the terms slightly to fit their class. It should be negro not nigger and chinamen not chink (or whatever it was in the actual literature).



The fact is, if it was read aloud exactly the way it is written, I would hate to be that one black or chinese child in the class. However, these races are not prominent where we live, so it could be many more in the class somewhere else. Either way, it would be a very derogatory way to express something, when there may be children that represent a different race in the class. Trying to explain that this is how it was back in the day, does not help them feel better. I know I wouldn't if I were them, especially if I was the only one in the class.



We must remember that children can be so cruel. No matter how much a teacher stresses that these terms are racist and unacceptable to use outside of the teachings, I guarentee there will be some children, that will take it to the extreme. I wouldn't want to be that teacher, when the parents came freakin'...



I think for higher grades, sure. Grades such as high school. JR High kids are still very cruel, if not more than any other aged children...



ETA:Didn't most of us see from the Rush comments that affected that poor 16 year old, how mean spirited kids can be? I mean those kids knew that birth control is used for many reasons. If they didn't they aren't learning much in sex ed class. My daughter has learnt that the pill is good for illness due to menstration, she is 13.5. So, these girls took what their mother's and Rush said, just to tantilize a peer until she broke. Kids are mean. We should not be giving them an "in" to use for an excuse to being ignorant...

Christina - posted on 03/12/2012

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why cant she just skip those parts and read it to them. there are ways around it with out you defacing a part of history and your family. sounds to me like they have more issues to deal with in schools then someone who willing sent a nice piece of history to their childs school for helping to educate the class.

Krista - posted on 03/12/2012

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I personally don't agree that books should be "sanitised" for children, and I wouldn't if reading or discussing with my own children. As a teacher though, you do have to be somewhat PC and it is pretty damn easy to offend a whole lot of parents, even with something you wouldn't think parents would object to at all.



I think that how I would handle it as a teacher, if it were the younger grades, is to read the passages aloud that I thought were interesting and that supported the lessons I was teaching, and leave out the "offensive" passages. With older kids, (maybe grade 4 and up) I would certainly read the diary as is and follow it up with an explanation of the thinking at the time. And I would be prepared to defend the lesson if questioned by parents.



I don't think it does kids any favors to "bleep" out moments in history, especially when they are old enough to understand and participate in a conversation about it.

Jennifer - posted on 03/12/2012

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I thought the whole point of studing history was to learn from the mistakes made........How do we do that if we cleanse everything?? I think we still have a tendancy to think in terms of right and wrong; we want things easy- Hitler was fully evil and the USA(or insert your country) was fully good. The problem with that way of thinking is it is crap! If the USA was so right, then why was eugentics so big at the time?? And WHY does this have to be covered up? Little steps can take a person on a long journey, and looking back we can see that. The civil war is another area- the North was all good, the South was all bad- really?? I had family back North during the civil war. Their writings are pretty hard to read; they didn't really like fighting to free the slaves, nor did they like the blacks moving North. What they had to say was different than my history books!



I loved the book Huck Finn. As much as I hate the 'N' word, it is important to realize that was just accepted then.

Jenn - posted on 03/12/2012

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It depends on the age of the children. My children are 5 and 7. They know there was slavery but they don't know the offensive terms used nor have they picked up on ethnic labels. However, if my daughter were in sixth grade or up, I wouldn't have a problem with her learning history's full truth over the course of a few years. Children need to learn at appropriate times and when they are mature enough to handle the information. I too think the violence of war would've been much more disturbing!

Krista - posted on 03/12/2012

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No. I think it is ridiculous to do that. Attempts to do that are born out of sheer laziness, I think. Instead of being willing to actually take the time to explain to kids how things were back then and how things have changed for the better, we're now supposed to just pretend that none of that existed?

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