You’ve Been Plutoed

As a publishing company with frequent reprints, we have to update the information in many of our books to stay current.  Our Elections book needs updating with each election, our geography books need to change the names of countries like Burma to Myanmar, our literature guides need to add the date of death to an author’s bio.  Most of the time, our science books don’t need much updating.  The scientific theories remain the same, and while there are certainly new discoveries all the time, most of the activities and specific information in the books don’t need to change.

Imagine my shock, then, when I discovered in August of 2006 that poor little Pluto had been demoted.  I originally found out from an online article by National Geographic, but started seeing more about it on sites all over the Internet.

There was an immediate backlash.  Protests were orchestrated, bumper stickers printed.

Honk if Pluto is still a planet.

Free Pluto!  Equal Gravity for All Planets!

While I didn’t march with a sign or hang an “R.I.P. Pluto” poster in my cubicle, I did take action.  All of our planetary and solar system books had to be changed.  After some discussion, we decided that we would put dwarf in front of each word planet that referred to Pluto.

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds.  Looking through a science book for all the references to Pluto is a challenge in and of itself.  Then there is the problem of layout.  Let’s say Pluto is on a chart that is labeled “Planets.” We have to decide if we are going to change the title to “Planets and Dwarf Planets” or find room in the chart for “dwarf planet” even if there are no other descriptors for other planets.  The same goes for any illustrations, diagrams, and even answer keys that include Pluto.

How do you handle change in the classroom?  Certainly we’ve all had to adjust curriculum to meet new standards, and it’s easy to talk about specific events that have visible outcomes.  But what about the issues that aren’t as easily adjusted in little minds?  As teachers we know that part of the job is to ‘roll with it’, so what does that look like in your own classroom?  [Food for thought:  Imagine if you’d had to be the one to inform your students that the earth was now round!]

Don’t feel too bad for Pluto.  It did end up getting its revenge.  In 2007, the American Dialect Society chose “Plutoed” as the Word of the Year. The society defined “to pluto” as “to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto no longer met its definition of a planet.”

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