NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Censored School Textbooks Offer Bland Reading

March 23, 2004

Censorship of school textbooks has increased over the last two decades, according to Diane Ravitch (New York University), in "The Language Police."

Ravitch says publishers have removed words, stories and pictures from textbooks to avoid offending any interest group -- regardless of how small or unrepresentative -- that could create controversy during the textbook adoption process.

She reveals that publishers operate from a detailed set of "language police" guidelines that tell writers and illustrators what they must not say or depict. For example:

  • The portrayal of women as nurses or teachers should be avoided, as well as describing blacks as excellent athletes.
  • Similarly, girls are not to be shown playing with dolls or kitchen equipment, while boys should not be described as confident and decisive problem solvers.

Unfortunately, Ravitch says, the result has been dull and boring textbooks that lack the capacity to inspire, sadden, or intrigue their readers. She suggests three reforms:

  • The textbook market should be open to competition by ending statewide textbook adoption and letting local schools and teachers decide what books to buy.
  • Every state should publish their bias guidelines, along with the names of those serving on their bias and sensitivity review panels.
  • School systems should require better teachers, particularly those with sound knowledge of English and history.

Ravitch asserts that the role of authorities is not to get rid of wrong opinions, but to protect the expression of opinion and the free exchange of ideas. She adds that, "[a] free society is not free unless it tolerates offensive words and unpopular opinions."

Source: George A. Clowes, "The Language Police: Fahrenheit 451 with a #2 Pencil," Heartland Institute, January 2004; based on Diane Ravitch, "The Language Police" (New York: Knopf, April 2003).


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