April 17, 2003
Textbook publishers have been censoring authors' work for 30 years, says education historian Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police. Besieged by pressure groups from both the left and right, educators and editors have developed detailed ''bias and sensitivity guidelines.''
This includes deleting images, ideas and words considered sexist, racist, discriminatory or offensive to feminists, the religious right, the elderly, the handicapped, Native Americans and most ethnic groups. For example,
- A sharp-eyed parent last year discovered that literary passages on New York state's high school Regents English exam had been censored to make them more politically correct -- for example, references to God had been deleted, ''a skinny Italian boy'' was changed to ''a thin Italian boy,'' and ''a gringo lady'' to ''an American lady,'' often without writers' permission.
- The state of California issued a list of ''foods to avoid in textbooks'' because they're unhealthy -- including bacon, butter, coffee, cream cheese, French fries, gravies, ketchup, mayonnaise and fruit punch.
- One publisher said the state asked it to remove an illustration of a birthday party because children were gathered around a cake, ''which the state does not consider nutritious.''
Most states help schools pay only for those books approved by a state panel. But with the consolidation of educational publishing over the past few decades, only four major publishers still produce textbooks.
And because California and Texas have the largest student populations (and markets), publishers generally tailor their wares to the requirements of those states. So pressure groups can influence textbooks nationwide by focusing on Sacramento and Austin.
Ravitch says more local control of textbook selection would help the censorship problem.
Source: Greg Toppo, "Textbook examples of PC Schools have put sensitivity ahead of truth," USA Today, April 17, 2003.
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