Censoring Learning

Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University, has served in the public sector in two Presidential administrations. President Clinton appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board. She was also assistant secretary in charge of research in the U.S. Department of Education for the first President Bush. She has received numerous honors and awards: Outstanding Friend of Education Award from the Horace Mann League; the American Education Award from the American Association of School Administrators; the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Distinguished Service Award; and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Teachers College at Columbia University, among others. These credentials underscore her passion for and expertise in education.

Her book, The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, is an indictment of textbook censorship. She maintains that “bias and sensitivity” panels hired by testing and textbook companies have restricted what students learn. These groups are not subject matter experts. Rather, “They have a professional background in bilingual education, diversity training, English as a second language, special education, guidance, or the education of Native Americans or their special populations.” These panels reject or excise any material that they find objectionable. They have white-washed and sanitized textbooks to the extent that they are dull and lifeless. According to Professor Ravitch, the practice

lowers the literacy level of tests because test makers must take care to avoid language as well as works of literature and historical selections that might give offense. It restricts the language and the ideas that may be reproduced in textbooks. It surely reduces children’s interest in their schoolwork by making their studies so deadly dull. It undermines our common culture by imposing irrelevant political criteria on the literature and history that are taught.

The concept that eradicating any “objectionable” material will eliminate bigotry and intolerance is absurd. The novels of George Orwell (1984) and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) provide valuable lessons. Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. Censorship is akin to thought control; it inhibits learning. Do not allow it to continue!

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