alibi online
2014 Best of Burque RestaurantsFree Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 
 V.13 No.49 | December 2 - 8, 2004 

Book Review

The Blind Leading the Blind

The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn

Diane Ravitch
Vintage Books
paper
$13

Ideologues of all sorts tend to believe that for their ideas to survive, they must be passed on to the young. Hitler subscribed to this notionso did Mussolini, Mao and Castro. Yet what they found is that it's extraordinarily hard to convince children with the same facile promises and revolutionary doctrines that ensnared their parents. So the dictators turned to schools, and in particular, textbooks.

You might think that their failure to raise a generation of truculent, brainwashed kids would teach modern interest groups a thing or two, but as Diane Ravitch knows all too well, you'd be wrong. As she reports in The Language Police, her devastating and thorough critique of self-censorship among educational publishers, radical groups on the left and right have taken control of American textbooks, transforming them into "a means of role modeling and behavior modification."

For decades, religious conservatives have vocally opposed any mention of divorce, homosexuality and evolution in schoolbooks, while feminists and minority groups screened texts for wayward terms such as "manhood," "niggardly" and "senior citizen." The legacy of their efforts is a preponderance of insane (waitmake that "mentally deficient") materials designed with an eye toward indoctrination rather than education.

My own experience with public schooling in the '90s and the battery of tests, clumsy books and anorexic reading lists that were part and parcel of that ordeal confirms Ravitch's argument. Most of what I read flowed through me like oatmeal and left even less of an impression. Thus it was satisfying, if infuriating, to discover that my lack of engagement with the material might have been the result of a widespread and systematic policy among textbook publishers to avoid anything that could set off the watchdogs of bias and sensitivity.

Make no mistake, this "bias" is not to be mistaken with the commonsense meaning of the term. (Ravitch, in fact, lauds the "sensible principle of removing racist and sexist language.") Rather, it refers to intolerably offensive stories about, for example, a blind man who successfully climbed Mount McKinley. The publisher's sensitivity panel rejected the story because it excluded children who did not live near mountains, and it implied that a blind man would have had more difficulty ascending than a person who could see. Other ridiculous examples abound.

One of the more disheartening parts of the book deals with the sanitization of literature and history. Ravitch writes that when great works, such as Huckleberry Finn, are not skipped over entirely in schools, they often suffer bowdlerization at the hands of religious zealots. In Tennessee, for example, passages were cut from Jonathan Swift's 1726 satire Gulliver's Travels to expurgate references to genitals, and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales suffered the removal of all their charming ribaldry. Furthermore, in history (Ravitch's chosen field), textbooks now gloss over the terrible deeds of men like Benito Mussolini and Mao Zedong, portraying them as popular leaders who effected speedy reform. Political oppression, class warfare and outright murderMao's Communist Party killed one million landlordsare treated merely as part of the inevitable ups and downs of any progressive government.

Unfortunately, by the end of The Language Police, most of Ravitch's criticisms begin to sound familiar. Her meticulous research and faultless scholarship sometimes make the book tedious to read; and as a scrupulous writer, her careful avoidance of stretching the argument beyond the obviously supportable takes away from the book's excitement. But for any citizenparticularly parentsconcerned with the state of education in our country, The Language Police offers a succinct analysis of just how outrageously politicized our curricula have become.

Today's Events

Laugh your way to great health with this tribute honoring the late actor and comedian.

Him Through Me: Making Love and Music in the Sixties & Seventies at Bookworks

Outside Mullingar at Cell Theatre

More Recommented Events ››
Join our mailing list for exclusive info, the week's events and free stuff!
 

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • alibi.com
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Rocksquawk Discussions
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Del.icio.us Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.
    3 BAD JACKS
    3 BAD JACKS9.28.2014