Some enlightenment please – – Does No Child Left Behind mean all children or is it an ‘almost’ no child left behind deal? Although the program itself was never properly funded academically it remains a stated goal of this administration. That aside, however, Margaret Spelling, the new Secretary of Education and original architect of the plan, has gotten busy early monitoring, in one instance, the content of the PBS series “Postcards from Buster” (a rabbit), which features travels with the popular cartoon character Arthur (an aardvark).
The two cartoon personalities visit different places sharing experiences with real people who represent diverse cultures and lifestyles. Apparently all was well with the series until an upcoming segment in Vermont that shows how maple syrup is made, featured an eleven-year-old girl who, gasp, has two moms. That, according to Spelling, is not appropriate for airing by PBS affiliates. Evidently diversity stops when a lesbian home gives every appearance of being just another happy family.
What are we to make of this? Is the little girl a throwaway child? Doesn’t she count? Who should define a person’s validity anyway? If her persona is not acceptable for TV viewing because of her two-mom situation would ostracism be appropriate? Should this little person maybe be kept home, not allowed to attend the local school, hidden from the world because some people disparage what her parents represent? It is difficult to understand the panic response to personal behavior that diverges from the right’s particular world view; no-one is obliged to like or approve of other people’s lifestyles or choose to live similarly. Whether or not gay homes and families are acceptable to all Americans they do exist; they are part of our social reality and have been for some time. Presenting a variety of lifestyles does not, as some would have us believe, encourage young people to choose that lifestyle. What it does do, however, is mitigate some of the shame and secrecy that attaches to that particular form of diversity.
In many ways, our reality is often distorted by an over emphasis on social hot-button issues refracted through a right-wing prism or reported by a stenographic press corps. Although disagreements about society’s norms do need to be addressed, there is another, more insidious, aspect to the persistent airing of these divisions. Politicians often use them to keep an electorate from focusing on more serious matters. Many years ago a book entitled The Uses of Disorder made just this point. At that time, it might have been local issues, like busing, that occupied people’s minds while the heavy lifting went on in the secret corridors of governmental power. Certainly, aspects of daily life are important, but too much time is spent these days on things such as whether there should be a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage: We should be paying closer attention to what government is doing with respect to foreign policy and the economy and allowing individuals to make their own way without being disrespected by their neighbors or their government.
No doubt Ms. Spelling is serious about the matter of the Vermont family, and maybe she is acting out of real concern. But we are beginning to see a disturbing trend in this country to set limits on what is acceptable diversity and to define speech and behavior by governmental fiat. It would be helpful if government functionaries reached some recognition of the fact that our kids don’t need quite so much insulation from nudity, bad words and an awareness of alternate life styles. Chances are they already know a lot about such things and have moved on. Rather, what they and all of us need to feel secure about is that our leaders are telling us the truth and that our media is not engaged in some gigantic masquerade, pretending to be news gatherers but being paid by government to spread propaganda.
One of the most important protections we have as a society is a free and independent press, not one that is told what words to use or is admonished when it tells a story as it appears not as the government wishes it told. When the press and other media lose their self control, the country loses a major strength.