Wait, Wait…

by Dan Quinn

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has another story about the perils of educational publishing in Texas. It seems that a play by Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s popular news quiz show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, was being considered for inclusion in an end-of-course exam under development for high school English students in Texas. Then, the Star-Telegram explains, a three-word exclamation in the play’s dialogue got in the way:

Sagal wrote a post on his blog last week about how test maker Pearson Education wanted to include his play as part of an end-of-course English III assessment for Texas schools.

“For ten years to come, high school students taking this exam would read my play, and then have to answer questions about it. Neat,” Sagal wrote.

His excitement turned to confusion when the company told him that the phrase “for God’s sake” needed to be cut from the play because it could be deemed offensive by officials at the Texas Education Agency.

Sagal complained on his blog that the request was irrational and indicative of Texas’ reputation as “the state that’s leading the charge back into the middle ages in terms of educational standards.”

Sagal told the Star-Telegram that he has followed the State Board of Education’s various curriculum debates for years.

“We had a joke on the show about them excising Thomas Jefferson,” Sagal said, referring to a controversy earlier this year in which the state board cut Jefferson from a section on influential philosophers in its social studies standards. The board later put Jefferson back in. After struggling with the issue and getting advice from fans via Twitter and his blog, Sagal decided that whether or not Texas schoolchildren read his play didn’t have anything to do with his difference of opinion regarding other aspects of the state’s curriculum.

(Read the whole story here.)

In the end, Sagal decided to change the supposedly offensive phrase to “for Pete’s sake.” But his blogging about the issue led the test maker, Pearson, to drop the play from the test altogether. A Texas Education Agency official — who expressed surprise that Pearson thought “for God’s sake” would have been a problem — explained that test items must be kept secret to keep the exams fair.

A side note: Sagal apparently had considered donating his licensing fee for the test item to the Texas Freedom Network because of our work opposing efforts by State Board of Education members to politicize the curriculum in public school classrooms. Ultimately (and understandably), he decided to donate the fee to help cover the health care costs of a friend and fellow writer who is seriously ill. Although he will no longer get the licensing fee, Sagal will donate to that cause anyway. Then last Wednesday, Sagal was hospitalized after being hit by a car while biking. His recovery is not expected to keep him off Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me in September, when he is scheduled to return from a summer break.

We wish Sagal and his friend, writer Jo Carson in Tennessee, better health and far better luck.

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