Political Correctness in Richard Scarry's Book

Topics: Political correctness, Gender role, Rabbit Pages: 9 (3069 words) Published: May 6, 2012
The Appearance of Political Correctness in Children’s Literature: With special regards to Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever

Political correctness is one of the most controversial cultural and academic issues of today. Although because of its interdisciplinary nature it can be studied in relation to American English. In this paper the main focus is on the new interdisciplinary studies emerging in the scope of academics, such as multicultural literature; narrowing down to children’s multicultural literature. The purpose of this essay is to study the development of political correctness in children’s literature and also to try to explore whether it is a clear cut appearance of the phenomenon, or it is whether a continuing formation of the term. The basic element of this study is Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever (1963, 1991), the differences between the “old” and the somewhat “newer” version. The scope of the exploration ranges across an assortment of topics. For example: how gender roles are illustrated in the 1960’s and in the 1990’s, also there is an explanation on how religious and ethnic groups are presented in the books. Moreover there is an attempt to compare and contrast different pieces of children’s literature of our time, as well as to have a look at a children’s book published in Great Britain. I do not offer a comprehensive study of political or cultural correctness presented in children’s literature, my aim is more to explore this particular children’s dictionary focusing on several themes. In this paper I would not like to explore the chosen books on a particular study or given viewpoint. I have tried to base the study on personal data research and my own reflection on the book. Nevertheless I find it important to bring up various terms and critics according to the topic of political correctness. First of all, I would like to explain what does political correctness (PC) generally means and its importance in the context of education and children’s literature. “The central uses of the term relate to particular issues of race, gender, disability, ethnicity, sexual preference, culture and worldviews, and encompass both the language in which issues are discussed and the viewpoints that are expressed.”[1] Examples can be African-American instead of Black or Negro; Native-American in place of Indian. Also gender-neutral terms like police officer instead of policeman, or flight-attendant in place of steward/stewardess. The term political correctness is originated from the turn of the century; it was originally associated with Marxism and Marxist theory. There are critics who claim political correctness as totalitarian, also a limitation on free speech,[2] commonly known as “speech codes”[3]. There are several interpretations of the term in general. Nowadays to be politically correct is rather a pejorative phrase.

As Richard Bernstein in 1990 stated in the New York Times:

The term 'politically correct,' with its suggestion of Stalinist orthodoxy is spoken more with irony and disapproval than with reverence. But across the country the term PC, as it is commonly abbreviated, is being heard more and more in debates over what should be taught at the universities.[4]

We can see at this point, that his reference on political correctness has already reached the question of education and the influence on children, proving that it has become a significant issue from the 1980-90’s. Although ever since children’s literature came to existence, there have been debates over the “moral correctness” of books[5]. In the 1981 December issue of English Journal an article points out the important features that should be considered when editing books for educational use, targeting children. The title is “Proactive censorship: The new wave”:

Today when writing a book for use in public schools, an author must be aware of: 1. How many...
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