CHESTNUTS ROASTING ON AN OPEN FIRE, GOOD books right before my nose." The most sadly amusing book I've seen recently is Diane Ravitch's The Language Police (Knopf, 2003), an account of how those concerned with bias and "sensitivity" have ludicrously removed some passages from test questions. For example, a panel of educators purged an amusing story about a silly old woman who piles more and more gadgets on her bicycle until it is so overloaded that it tumbles over. The educators feared that children who read the story would get the wrong idea about older women. They also removed the account of an African-American heroine, Mary McLeod Bethune, who in Florida opened the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. Forget historical accuracy: The "Negro" in the name of her school was a problem, as was her fundraising from wealthy, white philanthropists like John D. Rockefeller.
The panel excised a story about Gutzon Borglum, designer and sculptor of the Mount Rushmore monument, since Lakota Indians disapprove of the existence of the statue in the Black Hills. But "sensitivity" went even further than that: A story about a rotting stump in the forest that provided shelter and food to insects, birds, plants, and animals might seem unobjectionable, but what about the author calling the rotting stump an "apartment house" for the different creatures of the forest? Even though the story did not portray the insects and animals negatively, and even though it described the stump as a gracious and inviting home, the tale had to go because "youngsters who have grown up in a housing project may be distracted by similarities to their own living conditions."
Actually, youngsters who grow up poor are usually tougher than that. Jerry Jenkins's novel The Youngest Hero (Warner, 2002) is an eloquent tale of poverty and baseball for boys ages 10 and up and their parents. Star Parker's Uncle Sam's Plantation (WND Books, 2003) shows how to overcome the harm government does in the name of helping. Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s The Trials of Phillis Wheatley (Basic Books, 2003) is a short, poignant history of, as its subtitle notes, America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers.
On to politics and economics. David Horowitz's Left Illusions (Spence, 2003) shows an escape from Marxism, and Haynes and Klehr's In Denial: Historians, Communism & Espionage (Encounter Books, 2003) is the sad story of academics who are still intellectually chained. Those in denial could learn much from Eric Schansberg's Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left (Alertness Books, 2003), which, as its accurately descriptive subtitle says, is A Thinking Christian's Guide to Politics and Public Policy. Some thinking Christians look down on business, but Wayne Grudem succinctly explains why they should not in Business for the Glory of God: The Bible's Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business (Crossway, 2003).
The Bible teaches many other things as well, and William Craig's Hard Questions, Real Answers (Crossway, 2003) tackles at a popular level some of the most difficult theological problems; I plan to hand out to my Journalism and Religion class at the University of Texas next term his two chapters on "Suffering and Evil." Oskar Skarsaune's In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (Intervarsity, 2002) explains well that (as Edith Schaeffer put it) Christianity is Jewish. Nevo and Koren's Crossroads to Islam: The Origins of the Arab Religion and the Arab States shows that the traditional Muslim account of Muhammad starting the religion is probably false, since Islam took shape two generations after his death.
Finally, as you follow Frodo's journey to Mount Doom you might want to crack open Michael Perry's Untangling Tolkien (Inkling Books, 2003), a handy guide to the history and theology embedded in The Lord of the Rings. But wouldn't Frodo's trip be even more astounding if he were blind? Not to the educators Diane Ravitch writes about, for they purged a passage about a blind mountain climber who hiked to the top of Mount McKinley. The reason: The passage showed that people who are blind have more difficulty facing dangers than people with normal sight. Mrs. Ravitch's comment: "Perversely, the bias and sensitivity panel concluded that this story celebrating a blind athlete's achievements and his heroism was biased against people who are blind. In the new meaning of bias, it is considered biased to acknowledge that lack of sight is a disability."
Merry Christmas, sensitivity experts.