Education Minister Nancy Allan was quick to assure the B'nai Brith that she would act on their objection to the inclusion of a passage about a wounded Palestinian boy in the provincial Grade 12 language arts exam this year. A review, however, of the question at heart -- an excerpt from an article written by a local singer -- shows nothing offensive was presented to the students.

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This article was published 10/6/2010 (3964 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

Education Minister Nancy Allan was quick to assure the B'nai Brith that she would act on their objection to the inclusion of a passage about a wounded Palestinian boy in the provincial Grade 12 language arts exam this year. A review, however, of the question at heart -- an excerpt from an article written by a local singer -- shows nothing offensive was presented to the students.

Taken from the book Dropped Threads 3, Beyond the Small Circle, the excerpt of Chantal Kreviazuk's article Over the Rocks and Stones talks about her desire to defend human rights. She relates her pain after watching the agony of a 13-year-old Middle Eastern boy who "was caught in the crossfire of the constant fighting and escalations in the Gaza Strip" along with 12 other kids, six of whom died. The exam asked students whether they thought entertainers have a responsibility to make the world a better place.

The B'nai Brith complained that the two-page excerpt leads most students to conclude Israel victimized the children, fueling hate against that country. That understandably is the reaction of a special-interest group that defends Israel and responds to anti-Semitism, and that is especially sensitive now to discussions of the Gaza Strip conflict in the wake of the botched Israeli boarding of the Mavi Marmara.

But it is not Ms. Allan's duty to bend to complaints of lobby groups, to promise to erase any offence they may find in the provincial curriculum or tests. Such political sensitivity would blanch course material of any value; it is hard to imagine the work of any writer surviving the exercise. Nitpickers and special- interest groups can find volumes of objectionable material in course material, which could keep a meddlesome minister permanently distracted from her primary job, which is to ensure that public schools deliver quality education and taxpayers get value for their money.

Ms. Kreviazuk's excerpt did not mention Israel, nor the warring parties in the Mideast. She spoke of having watched news reports of the ravages of the Asian tsunami, the carnage of the Iraq war, the displaced refugees of the Sudanese civil strife and famine and her desire to protect the human right to be safe. Her observations may well be shared by most people privileged to be born in peaceful parts of the world.

A lot of students, like many ordinary Canadians, may be hard-pressed to sort through the Mideast conflict, but they were not asked to do that, nor were they asked to conclude anything from the political situation there. The exam question asked them to form an opinion, based on what they read, about whether celebrities had a responsibility to the world.

It was a reasonable question, based on the material in front of them. Many students may have said celebrities ought to help -- what teenager doesn't want global peace? Some, though, may have concluded that celebrities, like a lot of people, lead with their hearts, not their minds when caught emotionally by the media images of complex geopolitical realities.

Ms. Allan needs to respond rationally -- she now says she merely wants to ensure no student gets upset by exam material. Her job is to politely rebuff unreasonable demands amid the many complaints her office will get and let the department do its work free of political meddling and public nitpicking.