Acclaimed education historian Diane Ravitch answers the question of how the impulse in the 1960s and 70s to achieve fairness and a balanced perspective in our nation's textbooks went so terribly wrong in The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn
Author of seven books, Ravitch served as the US Assistant Secretary of Education from 1991 to 1993. Her expertise and her 30-year commitment to education lend authority and urgency to this important book, which describes in copious detail how pressure groups from the political right and left have wrested control of the language and content of textbooks and standardised exams, often at the expense of the truth (in the case of history), of literary quality (in the case of literature), and of education in general. Like most people involved in education, Ravitch did not realise "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."
In this clear-eyed critique, she is an unapologetic challenger of the ridiculous and damaging extremes to which bias guidelines and sensitivity training have been taken by the federal government, the states, and textbook publishers. In a multi-page sampling of rejected test passages, we discover that "in the new meaning of bias, it its considered biased to acknowledge that lack of sight is a disability," that children who live in urban areas cannot understand passages about the country, that the Aesop fable about a vain (female) fox and a flattering (male) crow promotes gender bias. As outrageous as many of the examples are, they do not appear particularly dangerous.
However, as the illustrations of abridgment, expurgation, and bowdlerisation mount, the reader begins to understand that our educational system is indeed facing a monumental crisis of distortion and censorship. Ravtich ends her book with three suggestions of how to counter this disturbing tendency. Sadly, however, in the face of the overwhelming tide of misinformation that has already been entrenched in the system, her suggestions provide cold comfort. --Silvana Tropea, Amazon.com