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The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  597 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
If you’re an actress or a coed just trying to do a man-size job, a yes-man who turns a deaf ear to some sob sister, an heiress aboard her yacht, or a bookworm enjoying a boy’s night out, Diane Ravitch’s internationally acclaimed The Language Police has bad news for you: Erase those words from your vocabulary!

Textbook publishers and state education agencies have sought to r
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published January 1st 2003)
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Scott Rhee
May 06, 2014 Scott Rhee rated it it was amazing
“For it is a mad world and it will get madder if we allow the minorities, be they dwarf or giant, orangutan or dolphin, nuclear-head or water conversationalist, pro-computerologist or Neo-Luddite, simpleton or sage, to interfere with aesthetics.” ---Ray Bradbury, “Fahrenheit 451”

Long before her excoriating examination and dissection of the current state of affairs in U.S. education policy, including a caustic critique of the No Child Left Behind Act (the George W. Bush-era education bill which
Apr 16, 2008 Maurean rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balsac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil" -W.E.B. DuBois
(great quote)

While I read this book, I wasn't sure
Jun 08, 2009 Karen rated it liked it
Long Story Short: This book makes some excellent observations and arguments about bias, sensitivity, censorship, and textbook publishing, but it makes them in a semi-hysterical and sloppy way.

Why I Chose This Book: I used to be a teacher and I currently work within educational publishing, so the topic interested me personally, and I am always curious to read arguments from both sides of the political correctness movement.

The Book’s Strengths: If the author’s intent was to get a reaction, it succ
Mar 08, 2008 Kirsti rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, politics
"As a student in the Houston public schools, I had firsthand experience with the political pressures exerted by extreme right-wing forces. When I was a senior at San Jacinto High School in 1955–56, I worked one class period each day in the library. One day I discovered a pile of books stashed under the main circulation desk, all of which were about Russia and the Soviet Union. When I tried to replace them on the shelves, the librarian stopped me and said that they had been removed from circulati ...more
Aug 11, 2013 Nathaniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I tend to hate activist writing, because reading a book classed as "nonfiction" for me is meaningless if the author is not trying to be objective, and activists rarely are. Most "nonfiction" writing of people with an agenda has less truth to it than many "fiction" books inspired by real life.

However, Ravitch is a rare exception to this rule. Though she obviously has an agenda, it's a pretty benign version of "I want to raise awareness to the dangers of the textbook adoption process to American
Aug 13, 2007 Toby rated it it was ok
Good points about the sanitizing of literature, but would have been better if she didn't make the same points over and over and over, to the point of writing almost identical sentences three or four times in succession.
Nov 10, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: 2003
It was The Language Police, by Diane Ravitch. The matter it discusses will be familiar to New Yorkers because of a recent Regents Exam scandal: the systematic "editing" of test and schoolbook materials to excise any theme, word or implication that might offend anybody. Ravitch presents a searing analysis of publishers' bias guidelines and shows how they became more and more rigid and nonsensical, and how they are the product of publishers and school systems caving in pre-emptively to interest gr ...more
Mar 20, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be fascinating. I've actually participated in a workshop on test passage analysis, which, looking back on it, was basically censorship. We were told if any of the passages could be upsetting to any student, we should eliminate it. I remember one of the passages we were left with that would actually end up on the test was a dumb rhyming poem about a slice of lemon pie.

Diane Ravitch traces the history of censorship on K-12 tests and textbooks in this illuminating book that inc
TL;DR version: If you're interested in the subject matter, pick up Joan DelFattore's What Johnny Shouldn't Read instead.

I'm actually upset that I didn't like this book, but it just isn't good. False equivalencies abound. Ravitch spends six pages complaining that high schoolers don't read enough of the canon (read: dead white guys) then says she isn't saying we should canonize. She implies that students aren't as influenced by textbooks as people think, then later says students will be confused i
Aug 25, 2007 Cyndi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teachers
Shelves: non-fiction
It's scary how we are controlled so much in school. I liked this book but I'm considering that ignorance is bliss.
This book discusses how the American government and pressure groups changes things or deletes stuff in our history curriculum to make things more likable and politically correct. What ever happened to learn from the past? Many more topics are covered in the book that make me want to get up and go fight the whole messy process.
Jul 08, 2014 Kaethe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: education
Ravitch looks at one aspect of the American Public School Crisis: the lousy curricula. Because apparently EVERYONE has felt the need to tweak it. Maddening stuff.
Bob Anderson
I first saw this book in the context of the current trend of writers complaining about kids these days, and how PC an SJW can be. Since Ravitch has earned my respect as a thorough and passionate researcher, I figured I’d get her take on the issue. But it’s not about that subject; published in 2003, it is much more about the way that the process of textbook and standardized test writing and approval sanitizes the content that children experience. A lot of her argument makes sense: guidelines foug ...more
Jan 04, 2017 Emma rated it liked it
Shelves: pedagogy, 2017
I wanted to like this book more than I did. I am a fan of Ravitch. She gets a bit strong-worded, but its good research and well-organized. I’ve learned so much from her stuff. For The Language Police, I enjoyed the first few chapters. Then there reached a section/handful of chapters which disappointed me. Then this was redeemed with the conclusions. For the beginning, I felt that Ravitch presented the facts well. She connects everything together and gives a clear argument. The chapters after tha ...more
Before Anton Chekhov and Mark Twain can be used in school readers and exams, they must be vetted by a bias and sensitivity committee. An anthology used in Tennessee schools changed "By God!" to "By gum!" and "My God!" to "You don’t mean it." The New York State Education Department omitted mentioning Jews in an Isaac Bashevis Singer story about prewar Poland, or blacks in Annie Dillard’s memoir of growing up in a racially mixed town. California rejected a reading book because The Little Engine Th ...more
Dec 27, 2012 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
My Amazon review: While Ms. Ravitch's topic and discussion of textbook and testing censorship is a stunning revelation and a fascinating topic, her book does not do justice to all of the issues. Ms. Ravitch could probably have benefited from a good editor, and some organization to condense much of the information of the first six chapters into one or two. Many of her points about the influence of gender specific groups, nationality specific groups, religious organizations, and others, as well as ...more
Janet Hey
Jul 21, 2014 Janet Hey rated it really liked it
This book started slow and I skimmed quite a bit of it at first but I really liked the last three chapters, particularly the chapter on English literature and the one on history. Just confirms my beliefs that most textbooks are crap and only likely to get worse. The book is over 10 years old now so some of the current issues are different but many are still the same, or just come in different guises.

Does this sound familiar to any student, teacher or parent? "Today's literature textbooks are a p
Aug 27, 2010 Lize rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2003
Awesome, frightening book about censorship in education, coincidentally one of the few things that both sides in the 'culture war' manage to agree on--they both favor it, although for different reasons. The appendices alone made it a must buy, and I've worked through several of the works she cited since then.

Quote: "The goal of the language police is not just to stop us from using objectionable words but to stop us from having objectionable thoughts. The language police believe that reality fo
Apr 07, 2014 Claire rated it did not like it
I finished reading this a long time ago, but I didn't know what to make of it to remain a positive person so left it be. Truth be told, I found the Orwellian idea upsetting and sickening.

I am almost not really in the audience the author Diane Ravitch was intending (of teachers and concerned citizens), but most of my family and friends are, so I read it so I could tell people about it, as I am a communicator, both by personality and by astrological sign (though that's silly).
I may be part of her
Susan Bazzett-Griffith
Disturbing, discouraging, and thought-provoking book about the culture of censorship in American textbooks and educational materials. The revising of literature, and nationwide lack of standards related to any classic literature at all was particularly troubling to me. I liked this book, but the author can be repetitive in hammering her points, as well as a bit boring in her delivery. That said, she did make this reader get my hackles up and pissed off at some of the things I was completely unaw ...more
Mar 13, 2012 Chelle rated it really liked it
As a teacher this book was an eye opener. Yes, I new textbooks are not the end all and always seek to supplement but I had no idea it was this pervasive. I wish I had read this while going through my teacher education classes. I will certainly look closer at the texts I use in my classroom.

This has made me reflect quite a bit on what I have been taught and now seek to take the best of that and find ways that work well for my students.

Every teacher, especially English and Social Studies, should
Frederick Bingham
This book is about censorship of school achievement tests and textbooks. The author decries pressure from both the right and the left that results in depriving school students of literature with content and meaning. On the right, the censors want to avoid exposing students to anything that does not present a Leave It To Beaver world. No sex, no violence, no witchcraft, no communism. On the left, they try to avoid sexism, racism, disabilityism or anything that might offend any minority group. As ...more
Jan 08, 2010 Leah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think what Diane Ravitch writes about in this book is so important for everyone in the United States to be aware of. Ravitch tells the story of how the textbooks and tests our students encounter every day have been sanitized by pressure groups (from the left, the right and everywhere in between). Our children read "cleaned-up" versions of classical literature and edited versions of history. Bias reviewers comb through everything, finding any and every reason to cut or change text so it doesn’t ...more
Jun 06, 2012 Marcia rated it liked it
Shelves: non_fiction
There are many shocks to the senses one encounters as someone in her late 50s who decides to finally pursue an undergraduate degree. I’ve arrived at a sort of peace with the body piercings, backwards baseball caps, and every sentence ending as a question, ya know? There is one thing which continues to intrigue me, however, and that is the textbooks. Beyond the fact that they were clearly developed for a generation used to information being summarized in factoid form, the efforts on the part of e ...more
Sarah F
Mar 05, 2015 Sarah F rated it did not like it
I tried. I tried really hard to finish this one. But after a year and only 90 pages of progress, I threw in the towel. I have read articles by Ravitch, and found her thinking on education and testing to be quite adept, but in book form, she just droned on. Too many times did she give up producing actual thoughtful commentary and instead gave way to listing examples of this or that, followed by another paragraph of lists, and then another. She did share her opinions quite frequently; however, the ...more
Sep 27, 2009 Kayla rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-read
An interesting, eye-opening book. This account was full of great whistle-blowing information, but the presentation was lacking in a way. I am not sure if Diane Ravitch had a word count, or not, but a LOT of what she presented seemed repetitive. Most of the book presented the same information in different ways. Granted, the information NEEDS to be hammered home, but perhaps using a variety of methods, as opposed to just restating the information in varied syntax. On the other hand, I found her tw ...more
Jan 02, 2010 Zahreen rated it liked it
This was an interesting book, though it didn't tell me anything I didn't know already. Of course, this is probably because I am reading the book many years after it was released and its findings have now become well known. As someone who doesn't really use textbooks for their teaching (aside from science...), this phenomenon seems far for me. However, I am currently reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry to my students (and I read it last year), and I could see a parent throwing a fit over the con ...more
Ryan John
Dec 10, 2016 Ryan John rated it it was ok
As a teacher, this was far less scary to me than it was supposed to be. I'm hardly shocked that standardized tests are filled with milquetoast passages and test items. Nor did it blow my mind that textbooks aren't engrossing texts that stimulate creative thinking. What kind of teacher teaches only from a textbook anyhow?

Ravitch would have done well to focus on how districts and teachers are pressured into not teaching certain topics and concepts. That's what I figured this would be about. I gues
Colleen Rice
Jul 16, 2010 Colleen Rice rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Venessa, Wanda, Kari
I expected this to be about linguistics, but instead it turned out to be a very eye-opening insider look into the censorship of standardized tests and textbooks used in our public schools. What started as a good intention--eliminating archaic, sexist, and racist language in these tests and texts--has snowballed into nothing less than a complete bowdlerization of the language to which children are exposed. In short, the few powerful publishing houses left after countless mergers calling the shots ...more
Mar 26, 2008 Rae rated it liked it
The author sat on textbook and curriculum content committees and shares her experiences. These committees have the overwhelming tendency to be politically correct, multicultural, revisionist, and non-offensive...thus removing all semblance of reality from the content our students use in school. I liked the fact that Ravitch was evenly balanced in her approach, showing the negatives from both conservative (the religious right mostly) and liberal (PC, multicultural, diversity) sides. The appendix ...more
Aug 31, 2013 Maura rated it really liked it
Yeah. I read this all by myself and just for fun. I had always thought that it was only one side of the political spectrum out to destroy education and control what kids learn, but Diane Ravitch proves that its both sides. Interest groups, religious organizations, both political parties, the ACLU, textbook companies - all of them are trying to get their foot in the schoolroom door so they can control what kids learn - some of them are in it for the money and some of them are in it or political p ...more
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