Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform) in this polemical analysis of the anti-bias"/>

THE LANGUAGE POLICE: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn

Diane Ravitch, Author . Knopf $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-375-41482-4

Textbook publishers are guilty of self-censorship, argues Ravitch (Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform) in this polemical analysis of the anti-bias and sensitivity guidelines that govern much of today's educational publishing. Looking at lawsuits, school board hearings and private correspondence between textbook editors, Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University, shows how publishers are squeezed by pressure from groups on the right (which object to depictions of disobedience, family conflict, sexuality, evolution and the supernatural) and the left (which correct for the racism and sexism of older textbooks by urging stringent controls on language and images to weed out possibly offensive stereotypes)—most publishers have quietly adopted both sets of suggestions. In chapters devoted specifically to literature and history texts, Ravitch contends that these sanitized materials sacrifice literary quality and historical accuracy in order to escape controversy. She also discusses how current statewide textbook adoption methods have undermined competition and brought about the consolidation of the educational publishing industry, leading to more bland, simplistic fare. There is no shortage of colorful examples: a scientific passage about owls was rejected from a standardized test because the birds are taboo for Navajos; one set of stereotype guidelines urges writers to avoid depicting "children as healthy bundles of energy"; editors of a science textbook rejected a sentence about fossil fuels being the primary cause of global warming because "[w]e'd never be adopted in Texas." Readers will likely disagree about whether, on balance, anti-bias guidelines do more harm than good, but Ravitch's detailed, concise, impassioned argument raises crucial questions for parents and educators. Appendixes include "A Glossary of Banned Words, Usages, Stereotypes, and Topics" as well as a recommended reading list for students. Agents, Lynn Chu and Glen Hartley. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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FORMATS
Paperback - 271 pages - 978-1-4000-3064-4
Open Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-307-42885-1
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