Text Book Anxiety


I’m so glad that I’m in college.

Do you remember the textbooks you had to read in school? I thought they were boring, you thought they were boring, and I’m pretty sure that your teachers thought they were awful as well. For me, my saving grace for my high school education was my English classes. I didn’t have to deal with my gargantuan history books, full of bland text blocks of historical information (which may or may not be accurate) without any analysis of significance, with a historical painting which may or may not fit the text, or another math book with more unrealistic and weakly relatable word problems, or a science textbook with unpractical and unrealistic examples of theory.

The reason why I’m fuming–why you should be too–is Diane Ravitch’s book The Language Police. The book talks about the censorship that cripples the textbook industry’s quality in the United States. I’m sure you’ve heard a bunch of times when certain conservative school districts–say, in Texas–ban books like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games for being too extreme, or being to witchcrafty and anarchistic*… but the kind of censorship I’m talking about here is much subtler, and perhaps, more detrimental to our children. It’s all about the censorship, or strangulation, of the controversial.

To give you a little idea of the stuff I’m talking about, here’s some of my favorite items from the book’s glossary of things that have been banned from textbooks:

*The schools that choose not to ban a series like Twilight or the entirety of James Patterson’s works are just as bad. 

Banned words and stereotypes:

  • Craftsmanship (banned as sexist, no replacement)
  • Mastery (banned, replace with proficiency, skill, expertise)
  • Defective (banned as ethnocentric, use sparingly, replace with language).
  • Freshman (banned as sexist, replace with first-year student)

Banned Images in text, image and reading passages in tests

  • Minority children or adults as passive recipients, observers of action, or victims in need of rescue by others.
  • African Americans as great athletes, physically powerful.
  • Asian Americans having strong family ties.
  • Modern Chinese males with inscrutable grins, with folded or clasped hands or always wearing glasses and looking serious and polite.
  • Japanese people who are great imitators.
  • American Indians portrayed as “closer to nature” than other Americans.
  • Older people with peers, people of the same sex, or only with children.
  • Older persons who are cute, dear, docile, little, mild-mannered, spry, sweet, well-meaning.
  • Older persons who are bitter, cantankerous, crabby, cranky, difficult.
  • Older persons who need government assistance because of financial problems.
  • Irish policemen
  • Children as healthy bundles of energy
  • Gays and lesbians as outcasts
  • Gays and lesbians as having emotional problems

Topics to Avoid

  • Euthanasia
  • Nudity **
  • Sex or Sexuality **
  • “Situation ethics” in which the right or wrong of a given act is based on the situation in which it occurs rather than on an absolute standard of behavior
  • Stories about slavery
  • Suicide
  • Winter holidays

**because of course these things are synonymous and both dangerous so we better not talk about them

Food to Avoid in Textbooks

  • Sweet rolls, Gum, Honey, Doughnuts, Cream cheese, Coffee, Pies, Pickles, Sugar.

Reading Ravitch’s book for me raised many questions. How much of a role should a parent play in their child’s education, if it’s a public school? What’s the price for removing variance, diversity, and stereotypes in a textbook’s visual depictions, even if its in the effort to create unity and avoid lawsuits? What is the effect that this might have on the perspective of a, say, upper-middle class privileged kid, the kind that doesn’t need to think about that kind of privilege and perspective because he’s not a minority and never understands what it means to be one? When we pick and choose what our children learn from a selfish, my way is right way of thinking, aren’t we brainwashing our kids, instead of broadening their minds, making them well-read, free-thinking human beings?
I encourage you to go buy this book. It brings to light a serious problem in the United States that has yet to be figured out, understood, or even questioned to the extent that it should be. It’s a conversation that’s interesting and in need of attention, something that we here at the Susquehanna Review can get behind.

You can find and purchase the book here. 

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