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This article appeared in The Textbook Letter, Volume 12, Number 4,
accompanying a review of Diane Ravitch's book The Language Police:
How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn.

They're Just Following Orders

Soon after The Language Police was published, Diane Ravitch wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal about censorship in the production of schoolbooks and other educational materials. Titled "Cut on the Bias," it appeared in the Journal on 1 July 2003. Here are some excerpts:

      Students across the state of New York recently took their Regents' examinations, the tests that they must pass in order to get a high school diploma. A year ago, the state education department was embarrassed when Jeanne Heifetz, a vigilant parent in Brooklyn, announced her discovery that state officials had expurgated literary selections on the English examination. Words and sentences that might offend anyone had been quietly deleted from passages by writers such as Elie Wiesel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Franz Kafka. . . .

      Since [The Language Police] appeared, I have received a large number of letters from people in the educational publishing industry, offering fresh material about the sanitizing that occurs on a regular basis. In Michigan, the state does not allow mention of flying saucers or extraterrestrials on its test, because those subjects might imply the forbidden topic of evolution. A text illustrator wrote to say that she was not permitted to portray a birthday party because Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in celebrating birthdays. Another illustrator told me that he was directed to airbrush the udder from his drawing of a cow because that body part was "too sexual."

      A review of my book in "The Scotsman" (Edinburgh), said that a well-known local writer for children sold a story to an American textbook company, along with illustrations. The U.S. publisher, however, informed her that she could not show a little girl sitting on her grandfather's lap, as the drawing implied incest. So, the author changed the adult's face, so that the little girl was sitting on her grandmother's lap instead. . . .

      [C]ertain images -- women cooking, men acting assertive, scenes of poverty, and old people walking with the aid of a cane or a walker -- are likewise considered unacceptable. The specifications for photographs, I have learned, are exquisitely detailed. Men and boys must not be larger than women and girls. Asians must not appear as shorter than non-Asians. Women must wear bras, and men must not have noticeable bulges below the waist. People must wear shoes and socks, never showing bare feet or the soles of shoes, . . . .

On 14 July 2003 the Journal printed a letter in which the president of the Association of American Publishers responded to Ravitch's article:

Don't Blame Publishers
for Bowdlerized Texts

      In her July 1 editorial-page commentary "Cut on the Bias," Diane Ravitch again unfairly lays the blame for the censorship of language and ideas in education on the backs of American publishers, who are outspoken opponents of censorship. Perhaps Dr. Ravitch has confused the process of textbook development with the forces in a free-market economy.

      Publishers are accountable to local and state education authorities for alignment of textbook content to a framework of state standards. Only instructional materials that conform to these standards will be considered. Many states or school districts invite their citizens to review textbooks submitted for adoption and offer the public a forum to comment on the appropriateness of the submitted materials. Dr. Ravitch's participation in such a public forum could add significantly to the dialogue, and we hope she will consider participating.

      The publishing industry has been in the forefront of virtually every major First Amendment fight for the past three decades. In the spring of 2002, the Association of American Publishers was one of the very first groups to support Jeanne Heifetz in calling the New York State Board of Regents to account for routinely altering and expurgating literary passages on the state's English Language Arts Regents Exam.

Pat Schroeder
President and CEO
Association of American Publishers
Washington

On 24 July 2003 the Journal printed this letter from the president of The Textbook League:

How Textbook Publishers Mangle Everything

      In a July 14 Letter to the Editor, the president of the Association of American Publishers, Pat Schroeder, denounces Diane Ravitch's July 1 editorial-page commentary "Cut on the Bias."

      Ms. Schroeder writes that "Diane Ravitch again unfairly lays the blame for the censorship of language and ideas in education on the backs of American publishers, who are outspoken opponents of censorship. Perhaps Dr. Ravitch has confused the process of textbook development with the forces in a free-market economy." Then Ms. Schroeder says, "Publishers are accountable to local and state education authorities for alignment of textbook content to a framework of state standards. Only instructional materials that conform to these standards will be considered."

      Ms. Schroeder thus suggests that schoolbook companies cannot be held responsible for their deeds and products because the companies are merely de facto agents of state authorities, charged with implementing the dictates and "standards" those authorities put forth. But if that is true, the companies surely are not functioning as players in "a free-market economy." Ms. Schroeder cannot have it both ways. I hope she soon will tell us what she really wants us to believe.

      I further hope she will answer this question: If the publishers of schoolbooks are "outspoken opponents of censorship," why haven't they spoken out? Why haven't the publishers themselves exposed and publicly rejected the censorship that thoroughly pervades the writing, editing and illustrating of American schoolbooks? Why have we had to learn about it from Diane Ravitch?

      American schoolbook companies, for decades, have willingly embraced and have assiduously practiced an extreme style of censorship that extends to outright fraud -- i.e., the mangling and misrepresentation of literary works, art, classic historical documents and religious writings (among other things). Ms. Schroeder's effort to depict these companies as "outspoken opponents of censorship" is ludicrous.

William J. Bennetta
President
The Textbook League

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