Two Votes

Dec 13, 2016 by

Who are the “66” and what’s their excuse?

That is the number of House of Representative members who voted against a simple, reliable, cheap, painless and voluntary tracking technology what would without a doubt save the lives of autistic children who are prone to wander away and are not uncommonly found dead on train rails or in rivers, as was a 14-year old Queens boy, Avonte Oquendo a few years ago.

The vote in favor was 346. It’s easy to understand why they voted as they did, but can anyone explain what possibly could have been the clinching argument for the “no’ position?  None was given in published reports.

And speaking of votes, does it make any sense that a Virginia school board initially voted to ban “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Huckleberry Finn” before reversing themselves last week?

Censorship was their instant defensive posture after a couple of parents, with no known qualification beyond legal guardianship, objected to these classic novels because of some vocabulary that removed from its literary, generational and geographical context and artistic intent could be viewed as racially indelicate for those who indefatigably are given to dig until they reach a justification.

If we judged the merits of literature because somebody somewhere sometimes and for some reason was bothered by something inside it, we’d be left with nothing worth reading.  There is no slope more slippery than the slide down from the prohibition of controversial art to the outright forbidding of the most valuable creative properties of civilization.

Parents should have no veto power over any aspect of curriculum. Indeed it is arguable whether they should have any input into it at all.

Should representation of Michelangelo’s sculptures be acceptable only with a supplementary fig-leaf on the naughty bits?  Or Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” pulled from the shelves because it is anti-Semitic? Or D.H. Lawrence’s passages of glorious lust be whited out? Or the sounds of Beethoven muted because he was a poor role-model for debonairness and there’s a society somewhere that warns that Armageddon will be the consequence of folks drying their bodies on curtains? Or “Clockwork Orange” be relegated to the cinematic morgue because it is violent? Or  Churchill’s speeches purged because he was an imperialist?

Beware: unsteady is the hand and unsteadier yet the mind that holds the airbrush, spills the whitewash or wields the editor’s scalpel.  The world will be undone by the censors, not by all the fancied insults of history.

The irony of the parents’ action is that they picked on two masterpieces that are full of empathy for all humanity. The school board should never have buckled to pressure, even though they later corrected themselves.

Parents should be welcomed and treated with respect at their children’s schools. But they should not be given conductors’ batons when they don’t know the score.

Ron Isaac

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