Friday, September 08, 2006

Sacrificing truth on the altar of diversity

You're a publisher of children's textbooks, and you have a problem. Your diversity guidelines -- quotas in all but name -- require you to include pictures of disabled children in your elementary and high school texts, but it isn't easy to find such children who are willing and able to pose for a photographer. Kids confined to wheelchairs often suffer from afflictions that affect their appearance, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. How can you meet your quota of disability images if you don't have disabled models who are suitably photogenic?

Well, you can always do what Houghton Mifflin does. The well-known textbook publisher keeps a wheelchair on hand as a prop and hires able-bodied children from a modeling agency to pose in it. It keeps colorful pairs of crutches on hand, too -- in case a child model turns out to be the wrong size for the wheelchair.

Houghton Mifflin's ploy was recently described by reporter Daniel Golden in a Wall Street Journal story on the lengths to which publishers go to get images of minorities and the disabled into grade-school textbooks. A Houghton Mifflin spokesman claimed that able-bodied models are presented as handicapped only as a last resort. But according to one of the company's regular photographers, the deception is the norm. At least three-fourths of the children portrayed as disabled in Houghton Mifflin textbooks actually aren't, she told Golden. In fact, publishers have to keep track of all the models they use for such pictures, so that a child posing as disabled in one chapter isn't shown running or climbing a tree in another.

In the politically correct world of textbook publishing, faked photos of handicapped kids are just one of the ways in which truth is sacrificed on the altar of diversity. The cofounder of PhotoEdit Inc., a commercial archive that specializes in pictures of what it calls "ethnic and minority people in all walks of life," advises publishers that images of Chicanos can be passed off as American Indians from the Southwest, because they "look very similar." Similarly, Golden notes, a textbook photographer tells clients that since the "facial features" of some Asians resemble Indians from Mexico, "there are some times where you can flip-flop."

Yet pictures of authentic Hispanics who happen to have blond hair or blue eyes don't count toward the Hispanic quota "because their background would not be apparent to readers." In other words, rather than expose schoolchildren to the fact that "Hispanic" is an artificial classification that encompasses people of every color, publishers promote the fiction that all Hispanics look the same -- and that looks, not language or lineage, are the essence of Hispanic identity.

Some images are banned from textbooks because they are deemed stereotypical or offensive. For example, McGraw-Hill's guidelines specify that Asians not be portrayed wearing glasses or as intellectuals and that publishers avoid showing Mexican men in ponchos or sombreros. "One major publisher vetoed a photo of a barefoot child in an African village," Golden writes, "on the grounds that the lack of footwear reinforced the stereotype of poverty on that continent." Grinding poverty is in fact a daily reality for hundreds of millions of Africans. But when reality conflicts with political correctness, reality gets the boot.

So, on occasion, does historical perspective, as for example when a McGraw-Hill US history text devoted a profile and photograph to Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot -- but neglected even to mention Wilbur and Orville Wright. "A company spokesman," the Journal reports dryly, "said the brothers had been left out inadvertently."

It isn't only when it comes to textbooks that diversity has led to dishonesty, or even to the manipulation of photos. In 2000, the University of Wisconsin at Madison featured a group of students cheering at a football game on the cover of its admissions brochure. One of those students was Diallo Shabazz, a black senior who hadn't gone to that game. University officials, desperately wanting their new publication to reflect a diverse student body, had lifted Diallo's image from somewhere else and digitally inserted it into the football shot. "Our intentions were good," Madison's director of university publications said when the deception was exposed, "but our methods were bad."

But the "good" intentions of the diversity crusaders cannot be separated from bad methods they resort to, whether those methods involve racial quotas in admissions and hiring, the assignment of schoolchildren on the basis of color, or photographic fakery that puts healthy kids in wheelchairs. By reducing "diversity" to something as shallow and meaningless as appearance, they reinforce the most dehumanizing stereotypes of all -- those that treat people first and foremost as members of racial, ethnic, or social groups. Far from acknowledging the genuine complexity and variety of human life, the diversity dogmatists deny it. Is it any wonder that their methods so often lead to unhappy and unhealthy results?



Comment below by The Anchoress, explaining why she left the Left

I left the left because they seemed to be spinning away on a narrow-minded trajectory of groupthink and goose-stepping which precluded individual thought, dissent, debate or reason. I left the left when it became clear that I was only permitted to think one way - their way - or be marginalized and cast-off. I left the left because I couldn't stand how overpopulated it had become with reactionary purists, those quick to relentlessly punish anyone who dared step outside their noble groupthink huddle. When some of my co-ideologues began to remind me of nothing so much as Madame DeFarge, crying "guillotine! Guillotine!" against any who dared dissent, and others began to remind me of Puritan prudes anxiously readying their scarlet A's for any available Hester Prynnes, I left the left.

I never wanted to use the word "fascism" for the troubling conformity of mind and manner which was driving me from the left, because it is such an ugly word, fraught with so much dreadful recent history. But then, fascism is not really a 20th century phenomenon, is it? It is a mindset as old as sin itself, and any group of people - on the left or the right - can fall into a habit of conformity which mutates into an expectation of particulars and standards which may then be exploited. Fall out of step with "der party" and you can suddenly find your fortunes reversed. Criticize the wrong person, and you may "never work in this town again." Fascism is really not about right or left - it is about suppression of individual thought and the stomping on of singular expression. It is about stripping the humanity from the "other side," both by labeling them and by shunning them, until they will do anything to belong "somewhere."

I see it on the left in internet political forums which delete any message which does not conform to the group-hate, or when certain politicians are reckoned "beyond criticism" and go untouched and unscathed by circumstances and history. I see it on the right, too, when I watch conservatives move "beyond" real and reasonable criticism, to actively throwing their own president under a bus because he is not conforming enough to the group-think; I see it when those conservatives seem on the brink of saying to many of their co-ideologues, "just let us do the thinking here, you rubes."

The dangerous slide into fascism is something every movement needs to guard against. It can happen so easily, and so imperceptibly. First there is an idea, and people gather around it. Then some people embrace it with fervor. Then some clutch it to their breasts and pretend it fills a deep gash within them, an aching void. Zealots begin to move the idea left or right, and they always have their followers, for whom "the idea's" progression into exclusivity and regimentation seems "only natural." For them, "the idea" becomes a religion. For some, it becomes a goddess. For all too many, an idea is not merely a thought and a thing, it is a malleable, amorphous catch-all which can consume any matter, distort it and regurgitate it into something altogether different, and still call it "the idea."

Hence, a classical liberal "idea" of human rights, personal dignity, open-mindedness and respectfulness has been consumed and distorted, and it is regurgitated 40 years later into something still called "liberal," which looks nothing like the name. In fact it resembles another, very different, much less noble "idea," one which we keep trying to battle back.

Fascism exists wherever people lose sight of other people as people, and begin to think of them as "them," as "votes," as "bodies," as "numbers," as "the people who do not count," or (as Rob Reiner once declared about conservatives) as ones who "deserve to be marginalized, because they're so wrong." Fascism can be take hold in a country or a church, or even in a neighborhood. It is the curse of every race, the scourge of every creed, no matter how sincere, it is the dementor of every movement.

The irony is this: fascism can only live in a group, and it can only be defeated by the individual. In order to shrivel the first buds of fascism in our social and political institutions, we need to look inward - each of us, alone - and strike at its roots within ourselves.

Tim Robbins' "chill wind" is perhaps nothing more or less than the hollow caves of our own consciences, our egos and our graspings. In which case we would do well to recognise it. We need to put aside the notion that fascism requires a bizarre mustache, or pageantry, or pronouncements. All it ever requires, really, is any idea set too-loose and denied boundaries and accountabilities. Like a child given too much freedom for too long, who is thus unable to rein herself in, an idea never tested nor questioned nor constrained by reason, will self-destruct. And what it becomes destroys the rest.

Australia: More social-worker evil

Abused children have been left to die and the social workers couldn't give a damn

Child-protection workers in Victoria have been slammed by the Bracks Government's child death watchdog for failing to properly investigate warnings of sexual abuse, chronic neglect and family violence against up to 20 children who subsequently died. In two cases, child protection workers were told on 16 and 18 occasions respectively that children were suffering chronic neglect, but only got involved when the neglect was entrenched. In four cases, child protection workers did not investigate despite being told of the abuse in its early stages. Allegations of physical and sexual abuse involving three children were not given proper attention by authorities. Child protection workers also failed to properly investigate claims by children they were victims of family violence and prematurely closed cases after parents promised to go to support services but never did.

The damning findings - which follow strong criticism of child protection workers in other states - are made by the state Government's Child Death Review Committee, which investigated the deaths of 20 children known to the Department of Human Services. The committee published new figures showing child protection workers received 37,242 reports of alleged abuse and neglect last year. Fewer than one third - 11,346 - were investigated and just 7250 were substantiated.

Joe Tucci, chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said the report was further evidence child protection workers across Australia were out of step with community attitudes. "There is a difference ... between what the departments think child abuse is and what the community is willing to tolerate kids experiencing," he said. "The departments will tolerate much more violence towards children before they intervene ... Most professionals want the departments to act more strongly and they are not. That is at the heart of why the system keeps failing a lot of these kids."

Influential Howard Government backbencher Bill Heffernan last week demanded changes to the way the states handle such cases, accusing them of protecting abusive or neglectful parents at the expense of children.

There have been similar revelations in Western Australia of hundreds of cases of suspected child abuse being left in queues for weeks because of a shortage of child protection caseworkers. In an exclusive interview yesterday, West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter promised more money and more staff for the embattled Department for Community Development.

The Victorian committee spent 11 months investigating the deaths of 20 children from 2003 to 2005. Its report, tabled in state parliament in May, has received no media coverage. Seven of the children were found to have been chronically neglected, but child protection workers deemed some of these cases were not of sufficient concern to warrant intervention. Chronic neglect includes not being given food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care. "In four of the seven cases reviewed, early notifications of neglect were screened out of the system without investigation," the committee said. "In two cases, the families were the subject of 16 and 18 notifications respectively. By the time child protection became actively involved, the child was already experiencing developmental delay and other long-term adverse effects."

Victorian Minister for Children Sherryl Garbutt said the Government had recently made changes to child protection backed by significant funding. "Unlike other states, Victorian reforms were not sparked by crisis but by an ongoing assessment of the system based on reviews of case management practices ... and supported by the latest scientific research from Australia and overseas," she said.


No comments: