The Language Police
By Diane Ravitch
Published in 2003
Every since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act there has been a great deal of debate about K-12 testing and role that it should
play. In the Language Police Diane Ravitch takes a peer at a different, but equally fascinating educational controversy: the censorship
of certain topics and even language from textbooks, and standardized tests. The book attempts to cover multiple different angles of the
censorship including the censorship from both the political right and left. For anyone who doesn't understand how textbooks are really
designed this book will likely come as a shocker. Many of the textbook editors fully admit that getting gender and racial equity in the
characters is more important than using quality literature that is actually interesting to students. Some internal documents that Ravitch
cites directly admit straight from the publishers editors that this literature is bad.
Through internal documents Ravitch creates a extensive appendix that thoroughly lists language that must be eliminated so as to make the
text as dry and uncontroversial as possible. While some words are understandable some seem outright silly. Costume is considered
“offensive.” Adam and Eve must be replaced with Eve and Adam because the convention is giving males priority over females.
Stickball is “regional bias.” The same problem exists for soda! In addition one can't show individuals living in
stereotypical homes, do stereotypical jobs, even if the story is historically accurate. This makes using literature before 1970
difficult without editing out controversial language, changing the characters, and sometimes even the plot in a process termed:
Bowdlerization after the couple with the last name Bowdler who made Shakespeare less controversial in the early 19th centry.
The chapter on the battle for history textbooks seems to have been one of the more amusing chapters. While some may argue that it seems
to argue for a very positive patriotic image of the US I think that this would be a simplistic conclusion. Ravitch covers what has
largely became a liberal biased history which seems to give positive spin on every civilization except for Western civilization. This is
despite when there is evidence of cultural stagnation, atrocities, and other negative occurrences in non-Western European civilizations
that are being glossed over to avoid harming certain students self-esteem. One of the most disturbing examples were that of glossing over
Mao Zedong's millions of victims while documenting the progress made under Mao. Another example of historical revisionism was that the
Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought “new job opportunities for women,” and that the Ayatollah Khomeini brought a better
government. While the Savak was eliminated one can debate whether the religious police that replaced them were better for the country as
a whole. Women before the revolution lived with more liberties than they did immediately after the revolution and debatably ever since.
This amongst other revisionism history makes for an interesting read.
The book seems fairly balanced in its criticism of both sides which isn't too surprising considering that Ravitch is respected enough
that she served in various roles in education policy in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. All considered I recommend the book.