USA Today, August 22, 2002

    Back to school, PC style  

    By Bruce Kluger

    Time was that "back to school" meant crisp new
    book covers, shopping for fall clothes and
    stocking up on a boatload of BIC pens. The
    beginning of the academic year was marked
    with a special kind of excitement, as kids
    eagerly geared up for that first bumpy yellow-
    bus ride into a new chapter in their lives.

    But those were the days before the Pledge of
    Allegiance was unconstitutional, Huck Finn was
    depraved and the sight of a Christmas creche
    in the auditorium sent a teacher screaming down
    the hall in a fit of secular outrage. Indeed, the three R's have never been more PC
    than now, as each year our nation's more vigilant watchdogs see to it that select
    books are banned, old lesson plans are scrapped and comfortable school traditions
    go the way of the abacus.

    Most parents find this wave of political correctness distressing. Not me. I've come to
    realize that the politicos and preachers who make up the rules are not "thought
    police" but conscientious educators bent on ensuring the mental well-being of my

    Therefore, as my two daughters head off to school this monthBridgette to second
    grade, Audrey to preschoolI'm joining the ranks of the politically correct and
    instituting a few rules of my own:

    Lunchtime. Over the years, Bridgette has developed a fondness for character
    lunchboxes, carrying her meal in pails alternately adorned with Madeline and
    Barbie. This must stop. Madeline is culturally typecast (she's so...French). And
    Barbie? Don't get me started. Instead of toting such controversial paraphernalia,
    this year Bridgette will be the proud owner of her very own Charlie Rose lunchbox.
    This dandy bit of Americana features shots of Charlie on both sides (on the front
    lid, he's talking; on the back, he's still talking), while the thermos sports a glimpse of
    the chat-master's landmark interview with John Kenneth Galbraith. Nothing like a
    little PBS to go with your PB&J.

    Coloring. I've been worried about Audrey's crayons. In the past, Crayola has
    admitted its colors "Indian Red" and "Flesh" were inappropriately named and
    promptly changed them to "Chestnut" and "Peach." All for the good, I say. So why
    do we still have "Black" and "White." Didn't we settle this Caucasian/African-
    American thing years ago?

    To be on the safe side, I've taken the liberty of re-wrapping all of Audrey's crayons
    in homemade labels, making the above corrections as well as a few of my own: I've
    changed "Jungle Green" to "Endangered Rainforest Green," "Manatee Blue" to
    "Person-atee Blue" and "Copper" to "Police Officer."

    Books. Schoolbooks have been an electromagnet for controversy. The left decries
    any texts with religious overtones; the right condemns books that depict alternative
    lifestyles. And Bill O'Reilly hates everything. So, this year I will ask that my
    daughters be exposed only to books whose content is ethnically neutral, politically
    non- partisan, culturally diverse and gender-non-specific. Unfortunately, the new
    Yellow Pages don't come out until spring.

    School supplies. My daughters were sent a list of supplies to bring, among them
    the trusty No. 2 pencil. Question: Why must the pencil be a No. 2? Don't I send a
    mixed message to my kids, telling them that being second is OK? And what's the
    difference between a No. 2 and a No. 1, anyway? According to,
    No. 1 pencils have a greater ratio of clay to graphite and, therefore, have softer
    lead. Just what I suspected. Not only am I encouraging my kids to be also-rans, but
    hard-headed, too. Not any more: This year, they'll carry raw charcoal in their book
    bags, along with a hunk of whetstone on which to sharpen their points.

    Oh, and get this: Also included on my daughters' supply lists was the traditional all-
    purpose storage case: the cigar box. Like I said, don't get me started.