Mysteries Government Language Police

Language Police

Language Police
Catalog # SKU0649
Publisher Distributors
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Diane Ravitch


The Language Police
How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn

by Diane Ravitch

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.

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 don't mean it." The New York State Education Department omitted mentioning Jews in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story about prewar Poland, or blacks in Annie Dillard's 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 America's students are compelled to read insipid texts that have been censored and bowdlerized, issued by publishers who willingly cut controversial material from their books-a 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 by test 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 publisher's guideline advises that

  • Women cannot be depicted as caregivers or doing household chores.

  • 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 nutritious.

The result of these revisions are-no 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.

About the Author

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University. She holds the Brown Chair in Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where she is a Visiting Senior Fellow and edits the Brookings Papers on Education Policy. Dr. Ravitch is on the Board of Trustees of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. She was responsible for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education. As Assistant Secretary, she led the federal effort to promote the creation of state and national academic standards.

She was elected to membership in the National Academy of Education (1979), the Society of American Historians (1984), and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1985). She was selected as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar in 1984-85, the first person chosen from the field of education studies. She was awarded the Henry Allen Moe prize in the humanities by the American Philosophical Society in 1986 and received the Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award in 1989. She was honored as a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library in 1992. The Library of Congress invited her to deliver lectures in 1993 in honor of the 250th birthday of Thomas Jefferson.

She is a director of the New York State Council for the Humanities and a member of PEN International. She is a director of the New America Foundation. She is on the advisory board of the United States General Accounting Office. She is an honorary life trustee of the New York Public Library and a former Guggenheim Fellow.

She was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, by the following institutions: Williams College; Reed College; Amherst College; the State University of New York; Ramapo College; St. Joseph's College of New York; Middlebury College Language Schools; Union College.

A native of Houston, she is a graduate of the Houston public schools. She received a B.A. from Wellesley College in 1960 and a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1975.

Softbound, 6.5 x 9.5, 272 pages