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Before Anton Chekhov and Mark Twain can be used in school readers and exams, they must be vetted by a bias and sensitivity committee. An anthology used in Tennessee schools changed “By God!” to “By gum!” and “My God!” to “You don’t mean it.” The New York State Education Department omitted mentioning Jews in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story about prewar Poland, or blacks in Annie Dillard’s memoir of growing up in a racially mixed town. California rejected a reading book because The Little Engine That Could was male.
Diane Ravitch maintains that America’s students are compelled to read insipid texts that have been censored and bowdlerized, issued by publishers who willingly cut controversial material from their books—a case of the bland leading the bland.
The Language Police is the first full-scale exposé of this cultural and educational scandal, written by a leading historian. It documents the existence of an elaborate and well-established protocol of beneficent censorship, quietly endorsed and implemented by test makers and textbook publishers, states, and the federal government. School boards and bias and sensitivity committees review, abridge, and modify texts to delete potentially offensive words, topics, and imagery. Publishers practice self-censorship to sell books in big states.
Ravitch offers a powerful political and economic analysis of the causes of censorship. She has practical and sensible solutions for ending it, which will improve the quality of books for students as well as liberating publishers, state boards of education, and schools from the grip of pressure groups.
Passionate and polemical, The Language Police is a book for every educator, concerned parent, and engaged citizen.
“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 of research 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