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Federal File: Were Bennett's views censored? Professor says so, but group says 'no'

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When the Association for Childhood Education International decided recently not to publish a planned book on moral and character education, its executive board said the completed work was not the practical guide for educators it was intended to be.

But Jacques S. Benninga, the California State University professor who compiled the book, thinks the board was motivated at least partially by an unwillingness to publish an essay by Secretary of Education William J. Bennett that was to open the volume.

He thinks that constitutes "censorship."

"I think what Mr. Bennett had to say was not the reason so much as that he contributed at all," Mr. Benninga said.

He points to written comments board members made about the book's 19 articles, in which Mr. Bennett received a large share of the critical remarks.

"Extremely poor choice. No advocate of what a.c.e.i. stands for now or in the past," wrote the group's president, Verl Short, a professor at West Georgia College.

"What gives this individual any expertise for such a topic?" Mr. Short wrote on a copy of Mr. Bennett's manuscript. "He is only recognized as a leader committed to the elimination of the American public-school program."

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Mr. Short said that while board members were not sympathetic with Mr. Bennett's views, they rejected the book for other reasons. It had no international focus and was unrepresentative of the organization's views, he said; but most important, it was not practical enough.

"There were problems with the Bennett segment, but the real problem is that it didn't meet the guidelines," Mr. Short said. "It was supposed to be a useful guide for classroom teachers, but that's not what came out."

The book was to have included descriptions of five national programs in moral education and seven local efforts, as well as philosophical essays like Mr. Bennett's.

The Secretary's essay essentially repeats a point he has made in numerous public pronouncements: that schools should teach, by the example of teachers and through historic and literary example, the moral tenets on which most Americans agree.

It is such a rehash in fact, Mr. Short added, that he doesn't think Mr. Bennett wrote it himself.

"He's quite talented; on the basis of what I've seen, I think he can turn out better material than that," Mr. Short said.--jm

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