Mickey Mouse is a scary rodent. Harry Potter is
anti-family. Christmas should be avoided. Dinosaurs are
banned. In the wacky world of US education, the language police are out
After 25 years of creeping censorship of school textbooks, the full
scale of political correctness has been exposed in a startling new
survey of official meddling in education.
In a book acclaimed as the first comprehensive expose of a national
scandal, former US government official Diane Ravitch argues that
a laudable attempt to rid US schools of racial bias and sexual
discrimination has been taken to ridiculous extremes.
"Some of this censorship is trivial,
some is ludicrous and some is breathtaking in its power to dumb down
what children learn in school," said Ravitch, an educational
historian who has worked with both Republican and Democrat
Her astounding glossary of words and topics
that have been banned by individual state agencies or voluntarily
suppressed by educational publishers has sparked a national row over an
epidemic of what The New York Times described as "bowdlerising
texts, whitewashing history and eviscerating prose".
A reviewer in The Chicago Sun-Times
"This book will cause readers to gnash
their teeth as they read of the outrages against common sense."
The Language Police: How Pressure
Groups Restrict What Students Learn, Ravitch reveals that a story
entitled The Friendly Dolphin was rejected by one school
committee because it discriminated against students who did not live
near the sea. Another story, The Silly Old Lady, was rejected because it
contained a "negative stereotype" of an elderly woman who put too many
gadgets on her bicycle.
A story called A Perfect Day for
Ice-Cream had to be rewritten without reference to ice-cream -
because of a ban in California on any mention of junk food.
Mickey Mouse fell from favor in some schools either because of
his rodent heritage or because he is also a corporate brand (banned in
California and elsewhere).
Ravitch's list of test subjects that individual schools deem best
avoided - on the grounds that they might distract sensitive students -
includes disobedient children, ghosts, quarrelling parents, ski trips
and birthday parties. In some schools, dinosaurs cannot be mentioned
because they imply a theory of evolution that not all Americans accept.
Ravitch claims that the process of "cleansing" text in this manner is
being applied routinely throughout the US school system. Book critics
have hailed her research as the potential launch pad for a backlash
against the "bias and sensitivity" panels that advise state education
boards on reading matter for children.
Originally formed to eradicate blatant racial and sexual stereotyping,
the panels now operate what Ravitch claims is,
"an increasingly bizarre policy of
censorship" that has had the effect of "stripping away everything
that is potentially thought-provoking and colorful from the texts
children are to encounter".
Ravitch blames pressure groups of both the
Left and Right for imposing dubious political agendas on the education
process. She also complains that educational publishers have meekly
complied in order to avoid controversy that might hurt sales.
As a result, she argues, too many US school authorities have forsaken
the emotional, spiritual and aesthetic benefits of reading a good book
in favor of a mechanical process they call "interacting with text".
US children, like their counterparts around the world, are at present
reveling in the Harry Potter series, which breaks just about every law
in the bias and sensitivity book.
Not only is Harry an orphan (banned - might be emotionally upsetting);
He is also depicted as "curious, ingenious, able to overcome obstacles"
(banned - sexual stereotyping);
He is an "active, brave, decisive
problem-solver" (banned - sexual stereotyping);
And, worst of all, he
has a pet owl (banned - owls are taboo for the Navajo Indians and are
associated with death in some cultures).
Ravitch warns that children will not be fooled by a diet of sanitised
texts when they know that Potter and similar adventures lurk on
bookshelves and in cinemas.
School is becoming,
"the Empire of Boredom", says Ravitch.
"Something is terribly wrong here."