August 25, 2003
Political correctness and religious fundamentalism are damaging American public education by pressuring textbook publishers to censor offensive words and ideas, claims Diane Ravitch in her new book called "The Language Police."
This "silent censorship" occurs in part because of the structure of the state textbook adoption process. More than 20 states adopt textbooks and distribute them to all public schools statewide. However, because Texas and California have the largest school systems by far, their impact on the fate of individual textbooks and publishers cannot be underestimated.
Unfortunately, the textbook industry does not operate like a competitive marketplace; rather, interest groups in Texas and California often pressure publishers to adhere to certain "inoffensive" guidelines and lobby school boards not to accept "controversial" textbooks. School boards in other states follow suit and generally adopt the textbooks considered the least objectionable.
According to Ravitch, three measures can prevent textbook censorship by special interest groups:
- First, end state-based textbook buying and let teachers and local school boards take responsibility for the content of the textbooks they choose.
- Second, ensure complete transparency of textbook publishing: Make publishers and state and federal agencies accountable to parents for what they publish.
- Third, hire more well-educated teachers who don't need to rely solely on textbooks for information on a topic.
The attempts of the "language police" to control what students read should be repugnant to those who care about freedom of thought and to those who believe that minds grow sharper by contending with challenging ideas, concludes Ravitch.
Source: Kory Swanson, "Language Police: Blowing the Whistle on Texts," Carolina Journal, July 2003, John Locke Foundation; see also Diane Ravitch, "The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003).
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