- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

THE LANGUAGE POLICE: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn.

By Diane Ravitch.

Knopf. 243 pages. $24.

In her introduction titled "Forbidden Topics, Forbidden Words," Diane Ravitch, the nationally renowned educator and historian, describes how she "stumbled upon an elaborate, well-established protocol of beneficent censorship, quietly endorsed and broadly implemented by test publishers, textbook publishers, states and the federal government." What she next writes should send a shiver down the backs of parents with school children:
"What I did not realize was that educational materials are now governed by an intricate set of rules to screen out language and topics that might be considered controversial or offensive. Some of this censorship is trivial, some is ludicrous, and some is breathtaking in its power to dumb down what children learn in school."
The villains in this dumbing down process go by an innocent, virtuous title: "bias and sensitivity review" panel. These panels are tainted by a spreading and threatening disease, PCS, or Politically Correct Syndrome. Panel members the language police are routinely hired by publishers and state education agencies to screen every test and textbook for potential "bias." These panels, pressured by lobbies of left and right have, writes Ms. Ravitch, "evolved into an elaborate and widely accepted code of censorship … hidden from public sight." The author has collected examples of what some of these bias reviewers have recommended for elimination from school tests.
A short biography of Gutzon Borglum, who designed the Mount Rushmore monument consisting of gigantic heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Why shouldn't school children read about this acclaimed national monument? Because the Lakota Indians, said the panel, consider the Black Hills a sacred place to pray and consider the sculpture "an abomination." Out.
A passage about owls was eliminated from a proposed test because a panel member said that owls are taboo for the Navajos. Out.
California has informed publishers not to include references in their textbooks to "unhealthy" foods such as: french fries, coffee, bacon, butter, ketchup and mayonnaise among others. California, along with Texas, have the largest school populations, so when their book-buying panels command, the four major textbook publishing houses stand at attention.
Such prohibitions are promulgated by these powerful "bias and sensitivity review" panels not on the basis of any kind of research findings but "because the topics upset some adults, who assume that they will upset the children in the same way," writes Ms. Ravitch. "The guidelines ensure conformity of language and thought."
Four different agencies promulgate the bias guidelines, which have become a preemptive form of censorship: educational publishers, test development companies, scholarly and professional associations and the states themselves.
Some of these guidelines are simply mad. One commands textbook authors to acknowledge this will come as news to American historians that the United States was "patterned partially after the League of Five Nations, a union formed by five Iroquois nations." Literary classics by William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and others are bowdlerized to a degree I never dreamed possible. The ultimate goal of the academic curriculum, says one publisher's set of guidelines, is "to advance multiculturalism."
The most stunning section of the book includes the 1993 guidelines prepared by McGraw Hill, one of the four conglomerate textbook publishers in the country. The basic thrust of the guidelines, says Ms. Ravitch, is not to depict the world "as it is and as it was, but only as the guideline writers would like it to be." She writes: "The bias guidelines are censorship guidelines. Nothing more, nothing less. This language censorship and thought control should be repugnant to those who care about freedom of expression."
What the textbook and testing industry have accepted without demur or public discussion is that the object of education is to produce a generation of high school graduates who accept "diversity," which, of course, makes quotas inevitable and racial discrimination admirable. The real world is replaced by a politically correct fairy tale in which it is morally acceptable to "censor" "Romeo and Juliet" or "Macbeth" so as to ensure that the ninth-grade dears don't inhale wicked ideas. What does it matter if the classics are chopped and their authors betrayed?
Indignation misplaced? Well then, go to the book's 32-page appendix, "A Glossary of Banned Words, Usages, Stereotypes and Topics." There you'll see the meaning of the cultural revolution incited by the "bias and sensitivity panels." Perhaps that appendix ought to be attached to George Orwell's "1984."

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