An Inclusive Litany

5/2/03

In her new book, The Language Police, education historian Diane Ravitch examines the process by which potentially offensive ideas are removed from school books and test questions in a process largely determined by a few committees in the disproportionately influential states of California and Texas.

A "bias and sensitivity" panel removed a test essay about patchwork quilts made by 19th-century frontier women because they "objected to the portrayal of women as people who stitch and sew, and who were concerned about preparing for marriage."

A story that featured two young African-American girls—one an athlete and the other a math whiz, who help each other learn new skills—was cited for stereotyping blacks as athletic.

A story about a heroic blind youth who climbed to the top of Mt. McKinley was rejected, both for the implication that blindness is a disability that would that feat more difficult, and because some students from non-mountainous areas might not be able to comprehend a story about the dangers involved. For the same reason, stories with dolphins have been rejected because most students don't live near the sea.

An essay about the varieties of life dwelling in a rotting tree stump was rejected because it compared the stump to an apartment building, which might cause special offense to residents of public housing.

Jews are not depicted as diamond cutters, jewelers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, classical musicians, tailors, or shopkeepers, but perhaps as baseball players.

A story about an Asian-American girl, whose mother is a professor, who plays checkers with her grandfather and brings him pizza was also rejected for three reasons: making the mother a professor perpetuates the "model minority" myth that stereotypes Asians; older people may not be depicted playing checkers; and pizza is junk food.

A passage on the uses and nutritional values of peanuts was removed because some students are allergic to peanuts. Mentions of cakes, candy, doughnuts, french fries, and coffee are replaced with references to more healthful foods such as whole-grain breads, yogurt, and beans.

Even owls are frowned on because Navajos don't like them. Mt. Rushmore doesn't make the cut either, because Lakotas might be offended. While often symbols of pride among African Americans, mentioning the palaces of ancient Egypt is frowned on because they suggest elitism. And of course dinosaurs imply evolution, which offends creationists.

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