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 month—Bridgette to second
grade, Audrey to preschool—I'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 www.whyfiles.org,
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.