We’ve written about Diane Ravitch’s expose of political correctness in public school textbooks before (here and here, for example), but now England’s prestigious TLS (Times Literary Supplement) has a review of Ravitch’s book on textbooks that’s well worth your attention.
As the TLS notes, Ravitch first became aware of the censorship that would ultimately lead ‘The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn’ when she was appointed by the Clinton administration to serve on the National Assessment Governing Board, which was charged with the development of proficiency tests.
Ravitch noticed that, in the interest of ‘sensitivity’ the board flagged seemingly innocuous harmless material as inappropriate were ‘an essay on peanuts because some children are allergic to peanuts; a biography of the designer of the Mount Rushmore monument because the site is considered sacred by some Native Americans,’ and similar excisions.
Interestingly enough, the culprit in the widespread censorship that goes under the rubric of political correctness is none other than the text book industry. Apparently, in an effort not to offend any potential buyer, they knuckle under to anybody who shouts, ‘I’m offended,’ whether the offendee is on the right or left side of the political spectrum.
‘[Ravitch] shows an industry that exists in flagrant opposition to fundamental educational principles: that thwarts critical thinking and is imitative and cowardly, buckling to pressure groups, even when these represent the most marginal interests,’ the reviewer writes. ‘This may not be a surprise to those who are politically and economically aware. Textbook companies, like all companies, are market-driven and litigation-shy, and the system of textbook adoption in the United States has evolved to assist these tendencies rather than curtail them. What, then, are educators and concerned citizens to do?
‘Ravitch advises three remedies: competition, sunshine and educated teachers.’
The TLS piece also addresses one of my pet peeves: educators who put kids into vocational training programs without any attempt to introduce them to literature, art, and the other things that enrich life. Ravitch’s book was Left Back: A century of Failed School Reforms (2000) addressed this issue.
In Left Back, Ravitch studied the strain anti-intellectualism among American educators that ‘funnelled large numbers of students into vocational training programmes, depriving them of the benefits of a liberal education’.For, where earlier educators concentrated on practical learning, their successors concentrate on moral uplift and the building of self-esteem. In both cases, this comes at the expense of critical thinking.’