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A CALL FOR WISDOM, DIVERSITY IN READING LISTS

Why do we Americans take the wisest little suggestion of educational or social change and turn it into some great racial confrontation?

In San Francisco, someone got the seemingly unassailable idea that schoolchildren ought to be required to read something written by someone of African or Spanish descent. But it is both presented and received in such a way that the school board plans to throw out William Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and replace them with W.E.B. Du Bois and Toni Morrison.

Any good school curriculum is broad enough for Alexander Pope, Ralph Ellison and Simon Bolivar.

What child of any race does not need to read Pope's great sonnets, which include such wisdom as his warning against excessive pride:

"Of all the causes which conspire to blind

Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,

What the weak head with strongest bias rules,

Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools."

What conservative advocate of small government would not want his child to read Bolivar's warning that:

"A state too extensive in itself . . . ultimately falls into decay; its free government is transformed into a tyranny; it disregards the principles which it should preserve and finally degenerates into despotism."

No black child ought be denied a heavy dose of Thomas Jefferson or John Stuart Mill's many wisdoms, including his call to boldness: "The despotism of custom is everywhere a standing hindrance to human advancement."

Every white child would cope better in this world if he or she read Du Bois confessing:

"One feels his two-ness -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength keeps it from being torn asunder."

I am not so modest that I will not say that every high school and college student of every race who cares about America's future would do well to read my autobiography, "Breaking Barriers," and ponder these words:

"The challenge of the 1940s is still the question of today. How do deprived, poorly educated kids escape temptation and deprivation, survive foolish and often unlawful escapades, and get anyplace close to an even chance in the race that privileged Americans like to call the pursuit of happiness?"

In the literature of the ages, and of today, wisdom knows no bounds of race or geography. Our kids ought to know that some 500 years before Christians articulated the Golden Rule, Confucius wrote: "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." And more than 300 years before the Christian version, Aristotle wrote, "We should behave to our friends as we would wish our friends to behave to us."

The school boards of San Francisco and elsewhere ought simply require readings that instill in children the wisdom and aspiration of human beings of all times and places, and not characterize reading list changes as some revolutionary act that requires apologies to anyone.

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