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The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learnby Diane Ravitch
Synopses & Reviews
Before Anton Chekhov and Mark Twain can be used in school readers and exams, they must be vetted by a bias and sensitivity committee. An anthology used in Tennessee schools changed “By God!” to “By gum!” and “My God!” to “You dont mean it.” The New York State Education Department omitted mentioning Jews in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story about prewar Poland, or blacks in Annie Dillards memoir of growing up in a racially mixed town. California rejected a reading book because The Little Engine That Could was male.
Diane Ravitch maintains that Americas students are compelled to read insipid texts that have been censored and bowdlerized, issued by publishers who willingly cut controversial material from their booksa case of the bland leading the bland.
The Language Police is the first full-scale exposé of this cultural and educational scandal, written by a leading historian. It documents the existence of an elaborate and well-established protocol of beneficent censorship, quietly endorsed and implemented bytest makers and textbook publishers, states, and the federal government. School boards and bias and sensitivity committees review, abridge, and modify texts to delete potentially offensive words, topics, and imagery. Publishers practice self-censorship to sell books in big states.
To what exactly do the censors object? A typical publishers guideline advises that
• Women cannot be depicted as caregivers or doing
• Men cannot be lawyers or doctors or plumbers.
They must be nurturing helpmates.
• Old people cannot be feeble or dependent; they
must jog or repair the roof.
• A story that is set in the mountains discriminates
against students from flatlands.
• Children cannot be shown as disobedient or in
conflict with adults.
• Cake cannot appear in a story because it is not
The result of these revisions areno surprise!boring, inane texts about a cotton-candy world bearing no resemblance to what children can access with the click of a remote control or a computer mouse. Sadly, data show that these efforts to sanitize language do not advance learning or bolster test scores, the very
reason given for banning allegedly insensitive words and topics.
Ravitch offers a powerful political and economic analysis of the causes of censorship. She has practical and sensible solutions for ending it, which will improve the quality of books for students as well as liberating publishers, state boards of education, and schools from the grip of pressure groups.
Passionate and polemical, The Language Police is a book for every educator, concerned parent, and engaged citizen.
?Fiercely argued... Ms. Ravitch ... writes with enormous authority and common sense. She shows how priggish, censorious and downright absurd ''the language police'' can be, and she does so with furious logic. Every bit as alarming as it is illuminating.? Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
?Ravitch (is) ? whistle-blower extraordinaire.? Gary Rosen, Wall Street Journal
?It should make you scream.? Jane Eisner, Philadelphia Inquirer
?A stunning piece of research and exposition that uncovers the hidden censorship currently practiced in the public schools through all reading matter. The prohibition of a great many words and subjects and the substitution for some of clumsy phrases shows up the censors as both self-righteous and of feeble mind. They are not warring against the improper or the sophisticated, but against fancied causes of bias or upset through the unfamiliar. The net effect is to render any piece of print so vapid as to neutralize its capacity to teach the child anything new and certain to bore him cruelly.? Jacques Barzun
Book News Annotation:
In this text for educators and concerned citizens, educational historian Ravitch reveals how interest groups on the left and right of the political spectrum have pressured publishers to self-censor texts for use in the classroom. She contends that the removal of potentially controversial words and passages compromises the educational value of these texts. As an alternative, she suggests explaining to students that sometimes history hasn't been very nice while still allowing historical actors to speak for themselves. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In this hard-hitting analysis, the nation's leading historian of American education explains the causes and consequences of the widespread censorship of any potentially offensive language or images from American textbooks.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -245) and index.
About the Author
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She was assistant secretary in charge of research in the U.S. Department of Education in the administration of President George H. W. Bush and was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board by President Bill Clinton. The author of seven previous books on education, including the critically acclaimed Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, she lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Table of Contents
Forbidden topics, forbidden words — The new meaning of bias — Everybody does it: the textbook publishers — Everybody does it: the testing companies — Censorship from the right — Censorship from the left — The mad, mad, mad world of textbook adoptions — Literature: forgetting the tradition — History: the endless battle — The language police: can we stop them? — Appendix 1. A glossary of banned owrds, usages, stereotypes, and topics — Appendix 2. The Atkinson-Ravitch sampler of classic literature for home and school.
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