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Language Police (Vintage) Paperback – 1 Dec 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; New title edition (1 Dec. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400030641
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400030644
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,235,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A comprehensive study of how testing materials and textbooks adopted widely throughout the United States suffer under egregious "regime of censorship. . ." Ravitch has uncovered a scandal here. She shows an industry that exists in flagrant opposition to fundamental educational principals: that thwarts critical thinking and is imitative and cowardly, buckling to pressure groups, even when these represent the most marginal interests . . . One can only hope that Diane Ravitch's book will help bring about a revision of the sanitized texts that are currently breaking our children's backs and dulling their minds." --Paula Marantz Cohen, "Times Literary Supplement
"Lucid, forceful, written with insight, passion, compassion and conviction, "The Language Police is not only hair-raisingly readable but deeply reasonable. It should be required reading not only for parents, teachers and educators, but for everyone who cares about history, literature, science, culture and indeed the civilization in which we live." --Merle Rubin, "Los Angeles Times
"Revealing and important... Ravitch richly illustrates her case... her compilation of evidence and argument is overwhelming." --Daniel Kevles, "New York Times Book Review
"Fiercely argued... Ms. Ravitch ... writes with enormous authority and common sense. She shows how priggish, censorious and downright absurd ''the language police'' can be, and she does so with furious logic. Every bit as alarming as it is illuminating."--Michiko Kakutani, "New York Times
"Ravitch (is) ... whistle-blower extraordinaire."--Gary Rosen, "Wall Street Journal
"It should make you scream." -- Jane Eisner, "Philadelphia Inquirer
"A stunning piece ofresearch and exposition that uncovers the hidden censorship currently practiced in the public schools through all reading matter. The prohibition of a great many words and subjects and the substitution for some of clumsy phrases shows up the censors as both self-righteous and of feeble mind. They are not warring against the improper or the sophisticated, but against fancied causes of bias or upset through the unfamiliar. The net effect is to render any piece of print so vapid as to neutralize its capacity to teach the child anything new and certain to bore him cruelly."-Jacques Barzun

" It' s difficult to exaggerate the importance of this book. [It could] turn out to be one of those rare books that actually influence the way we live." -- "The Washington Post
"" A book of Olympian importance. . . . This book may be the most important document about the future of the American mind in a generation or more." -- "The Baltimore Sun
"" Impassioned. . . . Fiercely argued. . . . Every bit as alarming as it is illuminating." -- "The New York Times
"" Lucid, forceful, written with insight, passion, compassion and conviction, The Language Police" "is not only hair-raisingly readable but deeply reasonable. It should be required reading." -- "Los Angeles Times
"" Provocative. . . . [It] has broad consequences for one' s thinking about all education, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the molding of public discourse in America." -- David Bromwich, "The New Republic
"" Ravitch [is] the country' s soberest, most history-minded education expert-- and, in this case, a whistle-blower extraordinaire." -- "The Wall Street Journal
"" Revealing and important. . . . Ravitch richly illustrates her case [and] provides telling assessments of historical texts. . . . [Her] compilation of evidence and argument is overwhelming." -- "The New York Times Book Review
"" Stunning. . . . Should send a shiver down the backs of parents with school children." -- "The Washington Times
"" Penetrating. . . . Fascinating and often infuriating. . . . The Language Police" "is the first step toward ending theabsurdities of educational censorship. It should be required reading in the education of every parent." -- "Mother Jones
"" Her criticism is devastating." -- "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"" Compelling. . . . Convincing. . . . A smart, savage expose of the absurdities wrought by both sides of the culture wars. . . . [Ravitch' s] demand for an educational environment that pushes students to confront, rather than avoid, the larger world is one we ignore at our own peril." -- "The New Leader
"" Spirited. . . . A plea for substance, intelligence, and reason." -- "The New York Sun
"" [The Language Police] could do for the failures of education in the United States what Harriet Beecher Stowe' s Uncle Tom' s Cabin" "did for slavery. It is a brilliant revelation of an insidious national disease of public policy. . . . It should be obligatory reading for every citizen concerned with the intellectual, moral, and imaginative life of U.S. children and society as a whole. It should be mandatory for everyone even peripherally involved in education. . . . Read it. Get the five most thoughtful people you know to buy it, read it and pass it on." -- "The Baltimore Sun
"" Meticulously researched and forcefully argued. . . . Ravitch' s qualifications . . . are impeccable and unassailable. . . . She has no political axes to grind and no ideological agenda to pursue. She is a lucid writer and an absolutely clear thinker." -- "The Washington Post
"" Ravitch writes with enormous authority and common sense. She shows how priggish, censorious and downrightabsurd ' the language police' can be, and she does so with furious logic." -- "The New York Times
"" A fascinating and comprehensive account. . . . Incisive and lucid. . . . Ravitch is passionate and persuasive." -- "The Intellectual Activist
"" Brilliant. . . . Astounding. . . . A hopeful sign [that] censorship this ridiculous can' t last forever." -- "Reader' s Digest
"

"It's difficult to exaggerate the importance of this book. [It could] turn out to be one of those rare books that actually influence the way we live." --"The Washington Post
""A book of Olympian importance. . . . This book may be the most important document about the future of the American mind in a generation or more." --"The Baltimore Sun
""Impassioned. . . . Fiercely argued. . . . Every bit as alarming as it is illuminating." --"The New York Times
""Lucid, forceful, written with insight, passion, compassion and conviction, The Language Police""is not only hair-raisingly readable but deeply reasonable. It should be required reading." --"Los Angeles Times
""Provocative. . . . [It] has broad consequences for one's thinking about all education, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the molding of public discourse in America." --David Bromwich, "The New Republic
""Ravitch [is] the country's soberest, most history-minded education expert--and, in this case, a whistle-blower extraordinaire." --"The Wall Street Journal
""Revealing and important. . . . Ravitch richly illustrates her case [and] provides telling assessments of historical texts. . . . [Her] compilation of evidence and argument is overwhelming." --"The New York Times Book Review
""Stunning. . . . Should send a shiver down the backs of parents with school children." --"The Washington Times
""Penetrating. . . . Fascinating and often infuriating. . . . The Language Police""is the first step toward ending the absurdities of educational censorship. It should be required reading in the education of every parent." --"Mother Jones
""Her criticism is devastating." --"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
""Compelling. . . . Convincing. . . . A smart, savage expose of the absurdities wrought by both sides of the culture wars. . . . [Ravitch's] demand for an educational environment that pushes students to confront, rather than avoid, the larger worldu

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Ultimately I enjoyed this book but for different reasons that I had perhaps anticipated.

Assuming that this would be a wide and far reaching exposition of censorship and its impact on society at large, I duly purchased this text, only to find it far from met those aims and objectives. Instead what I found was an articulate (if somewhat repetitive) diatribe pertaining solely to the very narrow concern of k-12 textbook procurement for the American school system, or rather that procurement system.

That textbooks are censored is not new, that content is reviewed and edited is not new, that pressure groups push to have their vested interests served (and those of other's excluded) is not revelationary, that language has (thankfully) been kicked into shape regarding overt racist and sexist language simply reflects the shift in what society has elected as being its current set of values. So what's new? Not much really, certainly not much that the average articulate citizen has not guessed at for themselves.

The major flaws in this text are as follows:
i) As the title alludes to, this is an historian's take on an issue which is really outside of her remit, and this quite often shines through,
ii) Dr. Ravitch seems to have forgotten she is seventy-three years old and that children and young adults don't learn like either she does or did, that their pedagogical narrative is a totally different educational paradigm to hers, so why isn't she aware of this elementary fact? She seems totally unaware that whilst she may hate textbooks full of graphics (she constantly harps on about this fact), that textbooks like that are NOT AIIMED AT SEVENTY-THREE YEAR OLD PEOPLE!
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Format: Hardcover
Diane Ravitch is a historian who worked in the U.S. Department of Education during the George H. W. Bush administration and was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board by Bill Clinton. In this book she expresses her concerns about censorship of materials used in public school instruction and educational testing. This censorship began with reasonable concerns that female and ethnic minority students not encounter offensive educational material. It "...has evolved into a surprisingly broad and increasingly bizarre policy of censorship that has gone far beyond its original scope and now excises from test and textbooks words, images, passages and ideas that no reasonable person would consider biased."

The book examines the original meaning of "bias" in educational materials and how that meaning has evolved in response to pressures from both ends of the political spectrum. The author's approach is noteworthy because of its even-handed treatment of conservatives and liberals. She shows how groups on the right and the left demand that test and textbook publishers to exclude controversial content from their products. Adoption procedures in the two largest textbook markets--California and Texas--constrain what is available in other states. Conducting "sensitivity reviews" and avoiding negative publicity, publishers produce materials that are simplistic, avoid controversy, and distort cultural and historical facts.

Ravitch warns that these boring textbooks in our schools are having serious effects beyond discouraged teachers and disinterested students. Learning becomes increasingly disconnected from the world students see online, in the media, and around them.
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This is a compelling read about the effect of lobby groups on US publishers of educational text books. The right wing (fundamentalist Christian) lobbies for change in content, while the politically correct left lobbies for change in language. The result is English test papers that are specially written to placate all parties and which do not - cannot - draw on the classics of American literature. The dumbing down of language and falsification of history described here are hair-raising. Not all the changes are unreasonable, but enough are so absurd as to be dangerous. There should be a public debate on the issues raised, and an investigation into the 'guidelines' used by UK publishers.
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This excellent (and depressing) study brings to light a serious problem in American education, some signs of which are becoming visible in the UK. All educators should be aware of Ravitch's findings, painstakingly assembled over several years. Of value too is her comprehensive list of literary texts that should be on the curriculum for each age group. It's also one of the best introductions to political correctness.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a stunning indictment of the textbook industry, not only in the United States, but worldwide. The author shows how a multi-million dollar industry stifles learning and renders teachers, students, and writers helpless in the face of the manic search for political correctness. To be fair to the industry, it is primarily an indictment of institutions that hire gatekeepers of knowledge with a myopic vision of lifelong learning.
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