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The New York City Department of Education drew all kinds of mockery last week after someone leaked a list of 50-plus banned words off of one of its Request for Proposals (RFP). In this case, the RFP had been sent to a variety of publishers the city hoped might revamp its standardized English and math tests.
The banned words were meant to spare New York students from topics “controversial among the adult population, [...] overused in standardized tests or textbooks, [or...] biased against (or toward) some group of people,” but the NYC D o’ E found itself widely criticized for being overly ‘politically correct.’ Perhaps the most damning accusations were those that insisted that such tests would remove a child’s ability to think critically when pushed outside his or her comfort zone. The Department of Education’s statement indicated that it feared these words might “distract” students.
We here at #hashtags whole-heartedly agree. Who needs the distraction of a phrase like “homes with swimming pools” when you’ve been raised without one? One need only look at the work of David Hockney for an example of the dangers of this kind of confrontation. After over twenty years in England, Hockney visited California in the mid-‘60s and was so struck by the plethora of pools that the object became a regular feature in his work, from its first appearance in the corner of California Art Collector, 1964 to its presence in composite Polaroids like Brian Los Angeles Sunday 21st March 1982, 1982.
And the story deteriorates from there – instead of sticking to images of unattainable, unpopulated swimming pools amidst modern architectural surroundings, Hockney also found himself “distracted” by the eroticism of the bodies that moved in and out of the water – in his case, male bodies.
Yes, when it comes to depicting the limpid and chlorinated pools of the Southern Californian upper-crust, Hockney’s body of work remains proof that still waters run deep. God forbid that any child with a New York public-school education be forced to meditate on the socio-economic differences between homes with private swimming pools and homes without, the relationship between the swimming pool and the history of integration and race relations, or the swimming pool as a site of sexuality and eroticism. You never know when that child might end up embracing his or her new relationship to such an object and re-shaping its cultural narrative.