Friday, January 02, 2009

A censored text from a Lakewood high school Jewish history class

A cache of high school הסטוריה notes and teacher handouts from a Lakewood Bais Ya'akov recently came into my possession. The important thing to remember is that the following is 100% authentic.

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As you can see, this is a quote from I. B. Singer, Yiddish Nobel laureate, from Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer. You can also see that text is blotted out (probably with white out). What was so bad about the few words written after "baron," and later, "proud," that it was judged unsuitable for these students?

Luckily these days you don't have to own the book (I don't) or go to the library (closed on Jan. 1). I hit GBS (Google Book Search), snippet view and all and saw that it was these:

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I found it interesting that this was so unsuitable, but I. B. Singer is, in general, acceptable as a source for reinforcing a point. The truth is, this is really a kind of קבל את האמת thing, is it not?

Personally I dislike the idea of presenting texts with the censor's line blatantly present. I realize that such schools are doing the right thing and voluntarily separating and forming an enclave where they can teach whatever they wish. This, rather than forcing it onto others, is proper. However, I can't get behind being so blatant about censoring texts in this way, as opposed to showing texts at the outset that don't require snipping out a phrase here and there.

On the other hand, that reflects my own values. From their point of view, this may not have been a sloppy job at all, but an overt message for the students: "We may feel that 99% of a certain source is appropriate for you, so we will show you 99% of it. The fact that we feel that 1% is inappropriate neither means that we will show you that 1%--alas--or show you none of it. The 99% will not lose out on account of the 1%. And we're happy to let you know that this is how we feel and see exactly how we do it."

Either way, it's interesting that the problem seems to be simply calling attention to the fact that men notice how women look.

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