Diane Ravitch has a new book out called The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn that anyone who is concerned with the state of education in America may want to read. It details how the text book industry has fallen victim to over-zealous meddlers both liberal and conservative and in attempting to please everyone is putting out bland text books stripped of any ideas or concepts that someone might possibly find offensive. The article What Dick and Jane can’t read at the Chicago Sun-Times gives an overview:
“Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings and call off Christmas!”
You’ll never read that delicious line from “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves”—or even its components “lepers,” “orphans,” “beheadings” and “Christmas”—in America’s textbooks and standardized school tests. The sensitivity police of American educational publishing, as rigid and ill-tempered as the sheriff of Nottingham, won’t allow it. To them those words are just too controversial.
Nor will you see in your children’s textbooks such things as “birthday cake,” “hot dog,” “fireman,” “brotherhood,” “you and your wife,” “England ruled the seas, her navy was huge,” “the deaf,” “mentally ill,” “the elderly,” “bitch” (in reference to a female dog), “first baseman,” “Chief Sitting Bull” and even “bookworm.” Why, you can’t refer to Africans as slaves or Jews as classical musicians.
You can’t mention George Washington Carver’s work with peanuts or Mary McLeod Bethune’s National Association for Colored Women. You can’t breathe a word about magic, witchcraft, family conflict, sexuality, satanism, evolution, the supernatural, Mount Rushmore, owls, God, or Harry Potter.
Why? Somebody somewhere might be sorely wounded by references to what some people consider possibly offensive words, stereotypes, subversive concepts or foods they consider bad for you.
Reportedly Diane Ravitch takes a very even handed approach to detailing the ridiculous changes insisted upon various groups with an axe to grind. I’ve not had a chance to pick this book up yet, but I will be planning on doing so at my next opportunity.