Activist groups acting as “language police” are exerting increasing control over American schools, resulting in bored, cynical and “dumbed down” children, according to a three-year study of education policy.
Diane Ravitch, author of “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn,” notes the classic children’s story “The Little Engine That Could” has been banned in some U.S. jurisdictions because the train is male, the National Post reported.
“The Little Engine that Could” barred because train is male.
The book “The Friendly Dolphin” was rejected, she says, because it discriminates against students not living near the sea.
“Educational materials are now governed by an intricate set of rules to screen out language and topics that might be considered controversial or offensive,” writes Ravitch, a professor at New York University. “Some of this censorship is trivial, some is ludicrous, and some is breathtaking in its power to dumb down what children learn in school.”
References to bacon and eggs and ice cream also are growing in disfavor because of concerns over healthy eating habits. Mention of birthday parties has been barred for fear of upsetting children who do not get invited to them.
In her study, Ravtich uncovered through court action many policies of state and local authorities and educators that were deemed secret. She documents “an elaborate, well-established protocol of beneficent censorship, quietly endorsed and broadly implemented by textbook publishers, testing agencies, states, and the federal government.”
Fearful of their titles being blacklisted, publishers are censoring themselves by removing anything that could conceivably cause offense, making classrooms an “empire of boredom” for young readers forced to read nothing but “pap,” said Ravitch, who also is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former education adviser for both Republican and Democrat presidents.
Some of the changes to books and test questions she found include:
- Women are not portrayed as caregivers or as doing housework and men cannot be professionals such as lawyers, doctors or plumbers;
- Elderly people must be active and not feeble;
- Regional bias is to be stricken – for instance, a story of a mountain climber would discriminate against students who live in flat areas;
- Girls cannot be depicted as watching sports – they must be playing them;
- Children cannot be portrayed as questioning authority or being in conflict with adults;
- Characters must not be orphans, ghosts or animals with negative or dirty associations, such as mice, bugs or scorpions;
- Ethnic stereotypes must not be propagated, so people with Irish roots cannot be police officers and a black person cannot be an accomplished athlete.
Ravitch told the National Post the result is harmful to children.
“It bores the tears out of them and makes them cynical,” she said. “The things around them are far more interesting than what they are finding in the classroom. The books can’t portray what the children see before them with their own eyes so they dislike reading.”
A Fox News report on the study noted how the changes have subjected educators to charges history is being distorted. New guidelines, for example, dictate American Indians should not be depicted with long braids, in rural settings or on reservations, but offer no suggestions as to what would be deemed correct.
The pressure on officials, which comes from both the political left and right, began as a way of rooting out truly offensive material, Ravitch says. But increasing politicization has resulted in “stripping away everything that is potentially thought-provoking and colorful from the texts that children encounter.”
Ravitch believes the solution is to remove state and school board control of approved reading lists and trust teachers to select material appropriate for their specific classes.
Others, however, defend the changes.
“I think our textbooks should, to our greatest capacity, be free of any type of stereotyping,” said Sue Stickel, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the California Department of Education.
“We need to make sure that all ethnicities are represented,” she said, according to Fox News. “We need to make sure that both males and females are represented. We need to make sure that our materials cover the full gamut.”
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