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Language Police: Same Book, Different Take, but worth a read

Tomeboy's posting of a review and excerpts from Diane's Ravitch's The Language Police: How pressure groups restrict what students learn intrigued me enough to check out the book from my local university library and read it.

Diane Ravitch is no Ann Coulter. Overall, this book is a fairly balanced, well documented text of how pressure groups have puree'd our children's textbooks into unreadable mush. A good sampling of her thought can be found on page 111, where she says:

"At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a new status quo emerged in which the textbook industry and the major adoption states became comfortable with one another. They shared the same bias guidelines, which quieted the critics, left and right. Feminists were happy, because the publishers had accepted a nonsexist language code. Ethnic and cultural minorities, people with disabilities, and the older population had no grounds for complaint, because they had won representation. Right-wingers were generally satisfied, because the topics that angered them were excluded.

"The only problem was that all this activism had made the textbooks dull. Studies showed that they also had a simpler vocabularly, that they had been dumbed down at the same time they were being "purified." With everything that might offend anyone removed, the textbooks lacked the capacity to inspire, sadden, or intrigue their readers. Such are the wages of censorship."

Ravitch emphasizes that one of the worst aspects of this "bias censorship" is that it is secretive. Nearly all publishers and state educational agencies will admit to HAVING bias and sensitivity guidelines, but most are not publicizing them.

To combat this secretive censorship, Ms. Ravitch proposes a three pronged solution, described on pages 163-170. Her solution consists of competition, sunshine and educated teachers.

Competition -- drop statewide textbook adoptions and make publishers sell direct to school districts. This will focus them on pleasing more teachers and local administrators and also force the opponents of textbooks to fight one district at a time.

Sunshine -- Force local, state, and federal education agencies and private publishers to publish their bias and sensitivity guidelines in many places, including the Internet.

Educated Teachers -- Ms. Ravitch claims (I haven't verified) that most teachers don't have a major or much coursework in the fields they are teaching, so they sometimes have as much trouble as students separating fact from fiction.

There is a lot of good material in the book, including interesting comparisons of English and History curriculia of the 50 states along with the surprisingly few state reading lists. Try this book out.

MY DIFFERENT TAKE: Where Tomeboy appears to see the evil hand of liberals and the Nanny state in these battles, I see cowardly corporations and the effects of an unfree market and centralized control of education. Essentially, the large textbook publishers are terrified of anything that might sink sales or lead to controversy or litigation. They have to especially worried of anything that makes waves in California or Texas, since those two state account for the bulk of the textbook market. Concern for profits over learning efficacy naturally lead to the elimination of whatever anyone squawks about.

If publishers had greater access to individual districts and if they were required to publish their bias and sensitivity guidelines, people and districts would gravitate to publishers with sensible guidelines and more interesting textbooks. A fully-informed, free market solution.

Finally, I need to point out that while I don't believe ALA has acted on this issue recently, they did take a stand in 1982 with a policy called "Diversity in Collection Development." According to Ms. Ravitch, this statement decried censorship and said that "removing or not selecting materials because they are considered by some as racist or sexist" was and example of censorship." This statement, while still against the censorship that Ms. Ravitch deplores, is admittedly a weakening of a 1973 statement "Sexism, Racism, and Other-Isms in Library Materials," which stated "intellectual freedom, in its purest sense, promotes no causes, furthers no movements, and favors no viewpoints ... Toleration is meaningless without toleration for the detestable." Still, as far as I know, the 1982 policy stands. Perhaps it needs to be revisited in light of the nationalization of our schools under NCLB, but ALA does have a policy of which it can be proud.

Whew! Until next time!

Chris Sherman is reading my mind

I've never met Chris Sherman, but he has invaded my head. Just when I've been searching for ways to keep things found, Chris saves my bacon by publishing this article Create Your Own Online Web Page Archive. Now, I need to remember to go to Furl and SurfSaver.
Now, where'd I put my pen?

Politics & Libraries

Is there any sort of coherent library policy in the US? It sure does not seem like it. At least NCLIS is going to be up to full strength on commissioners eventually.Canada on the other hand, though, gets interesting. My supervising faculty member had me looking at Bill C-36 in the 2nd session of the 37th Parliament of Canada which would amalgamate the National Library of Canada and Archives Canada into one entity.

Linux in the library

As sort of an extra cirricular activity, I put Linux on a box that Windows wouldn't install on (for whatever reason). It was the minimum that could run SuSE 9 with X Windows.

Despite zorching Windows off the hard drive, it still couldn't quite handle the whole SuSE package... Well, not true, it could handle it, it just is painful to behold. Slow as molasses and disk space is nearly nil. Perhaps I'll try something other than KDE to get around in on it. KDE runs slow on my P4 512 MB system.

Nipplegate

So "nipplegate" continues. The chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, is outraged. He tells the broadcast media to "clean up their rooms." Well, you know what really is an outrage? This whole hullabaloo (nice word, huh) over JJ's bodice. Who do they think they're kidding? The Superbowl is all about SEX. Big bulky jocks in tight football uniforms (yeah, look at those tight ends!!) and perky, bubbly cheerleaders shaking their pom-poms and whatever else they've got. Commercials selling whatever they're selling with sex (oh yeah, and drugs). Sometimes I wonder about our culture.

The LISEchoChamber

I just recently heard the phrase "echo chamber" for the first time, and it made sense. Most people tend to interact with others that share the same views on many subjects. The term seems to be synonymous with politics, and seems to have attached itself to Howard Dean. Dean supporters only talked to other Dean supporters, and missed out on what everyone else was doing and saying. I'd say that's true of all supporters. Bush, Clinton, Edwards, Dean, Nixon, Regan, Carver (do I have any supporters?) they all just stick together and complain about the other guy. LISNews is, for the most part (unfortunately), an echo chamber as well. You'll find few supporters of the Patriot Act, or many of the other big librarian causes here, or almost anywhere on the web. That's not something I try to encourage. There have been a few very interesting and open discussions between people on both sides of the issue, which gives me hope that things maybe opening up. Intelligent discussions or arguments are few and far between on the web. It takes guts to be the one dissenting voice in any discussion. I had high hopes when I first heard about Shush, but so far it's been a big disappointment. Someone needs to take up that cause that has something interesting, informative, and well thought out to say.

So, I've given myself a personal challenge this election year. To get just one person to vote against Bush who would've otherwise voted for him. Luckily I've got a few people I think won't end up hating me as I work on them. I'm careful to be respectful, gentle, and always factual, and generally Socratic. I love letting someone talk themselves into a corner, I'm a quiet personally generally, so it's often very easy to do. I find it works best when I quote the man himself, that way there can be no doubt as to what was said, and only interpretation can be argued. So far I don't know how it's going, but it's been far easier to find really strong arguments on my side than I had thought. So far my favorite discussion went something like this:

Me: something about Cheny's energy taks force
Them: Clinton did the same thing
Me: So we're in agreement on Cheny.
Them: dead silence

It was like they'd never given any thought to what's going on with this except to relate it to their hatred and fear of the Clintons. They had no idea what Cheny was actually doing, not that I really do, but at least I had some quotes. This is probably typical of arguments on both sides of the issues these days. Bring up anything to a conservative and they squawk Clinton, bring up anything to a liberal and they squawk Bush.

Now, all of this does not mean I consider my self liberal, not even close. Most people seem to think if you're opposed to one thing, they you must be for another. Against Bush? You must be a liberal. For Bush? You must be a neocon. I tend to think both sides will have good points and bad points, and one side will usually have more good than bad. I've never been a one issue voter. At this point, as I see it, Bush is more bad than good.

No links in this one, too busy today.

I finally said it

I finally said to one of the kids that congregates around the computer area... "It's a library, it's a building full of books. Read."

He laughed. I think he realized the truth in what I was saying. He's not a bad kid, he's not necessarily a troublemaker. He just clogs up the reference area by standing over his friend's shoulder, looking at god knows what on the internet. Honestly, if he were sitting and pretending to look at a book while occasionally glancing at his buddy's screen, I wouldn't mind too much. But when you have like eight kids standing around a screen it makes it hard to pass.

I also pulled down a donation computer to see what it could do. It's actually a pretty good computer. I'd like to either a) get the LAN card working and give it to the children's room staff or b) set it up as a word processor terminal, because even a halfway usable donation beats what we've got. It still ain't great. I'd really like to set up a word processor in the young adult room, so that the kids can do their homework some place a little more age appropriate and comfortable for them, but there's that problem of room. And of finding another printer.

I don't know how long this computer will actually last... It is older, and the fans are pretty feeble on it, so I'm thinking it's probably going to just burn out eventually. But even a few months is buying us more time.

Yesterday I got a request for "a book." No more information. Could you narrow that down a little? We have a few of those.

I've never seen a teenager get so excited that we had a copy of The Fountainhead.

Most of today will be spent in Local History and reference. I miss my desk sometimes. I probably wouldn't if there weren't so much to do at it.

One of these days, if I ever find time (maybe today's the day) I'm going to check out The Professor and the Madman... by Simon Winchester. It was recommended by Simmons' beloved Allen Smith (hi Allen!) and I meant to read it, but life has this tendency to get in the way.

Online - Lost/Found

I need to keep track of things. I found this great site with articles related to "Keeping Things Found." Well, I can't find it. (Ok, it's here, but I still had to look for it.)
Like many people, I have tons of bookmarks. I tend to print out the first page of something interesting online and put it on my desk. Granted, it sits there until my yearly desk-cleaning where the site is no longer there, the information is no longer current, and I, for the life of me, can't remember why I found it so interesting in the first place.

Continuing Windows may cause your system to become unstable

I got the following error message the other day:

Continuing to use Windows may cause your system to become unstable.

Either someone at Microsoft has an evil sense of humor, or they really need to proofread their error messages.

At any rate, I read it and thought, "No duh." Windows never installed on that machine by the way. A good Linux candidate.

I never made it to the basement with the ghost last night. I ended up getting tied up in Mac land. It was a seemingly simple task... Made difficult by having to chase people off the computers I was working on.

Today I am internet cop-I mean reference librarian today from 2-5. I like reference, when I'm doing reference work. I don't like being internet cop. I don't like telling people to be courteous when they should know. Yesterday one of the librarians said, "Ah, it's two o'clock, they descend on reference like flies to bad meat."

Believe me, they're not all looking for reference books.

Today I am ordering OS X Panther, before the budget is frozen for the rest of the year. That scares me. I am going to run up with my wish list real quick like. I am only ordering two copies, to see how well it networks and works in the adult section.

Okay, one of the custodians is really ticking me off. Sometimes he has good suggestions, and sometimes he should really just let me do my job. I understand he wanted to get out of there last night, but when I didn't make the "We're closing" announcement at 8:45 (I made it at 8:48, he told the circ staff loudly) I got a little ripped. I wanted to get out of there too, but I sort of had an administrative task on my desk that needed just three minutes of my undivided attention.

He also questions whenever someone is at the print station. Some poor guy had twelve documents to print, so he took a seat to print them. No problem. And the custodian in question comes over and starts saying, "Is he supposed to be there? That's not a terminal." Um, yeah, I know. There is nothing anyone can get to that they shouldn't on that computer. He's got to relax. Pick his battles. You can usually tell who the trouble makers are (they come in groups of two or more.)

In his favor, he is good about moving people along. I just wish he didn't come tell me about it every time he does.

Someday I want to say to someone: Respect my authority control! Just to say I did.

Acquisitions. Accessions. Municipal documents.

Acquisition and accession of municipal government documents at our North American cities' public libraries need to be given greater priority. The civic mission of our cities' public libraries would be fulfilled better if people interested in civic matters could have access to the documentation of the working of municipal agencies. For example, in Boston people are routinely deflected at city hall by the city council and city clerks offices.

How NOT to evangelize

From a BBC News story on an American Airlines flight:

--------------------
"The pilot, whose name was not released, asked Christians on Friday's flight to raise their hands.

He then suggested non-Christians talk to the Christians about their faith.

He went on to say that "everyone who doesn't have their hand raised is crazy", passenger Amanda Nelligan told CBS news.

"He continued to say, 'Well, you have a choice: you can make this trip worthwhile, or you can sit back, read a book and watch the movie'," she said.

The pilot also told passengers he would be available for discussion at the end of the flight.
----------------------------

Rayford Steele might be proud, but I think it more likely that this pilot turned people away from Christ rather than made any new disciples for the kingdom.

Although it is important to the Christian to spread the Good News of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection, I don't think Christ meant us to witness in places where people had no choice but to listen.

In one of the Gospels, Jesus says "Behold, I stand at the door and knock", not "Behold, I come into your living room with a megaphone and say that you're crazy." As Jesus gave us a choice, I think we Christians must follow his example and give other people a chance to walk away from our message. This can't be done at 30,000 feet.

One of my favorite St. Francis quotes, possibly fictitious is:

"Preach always, if necessary, use words!"

Or to paraphrase the old hymn, "They shall know we are Christians by our love, not by the strength of our PA system."

This attitude, along with my professional ethic keeps me from trying to win people to Christ through words while at work. I think people have to feel that the library is safe, neutral territory and I'm not sure that unasked for verbal witnessing at work would ever fit into that.

If someone were to ask me about my faith at work, I think I would talk about it briefly if it were a patron, and more so if it was a coworker.

I owe my current faith to coworkers at a law firm who never preached to me on the job, but were always kind, thoughtful people who were patient with everybody. I wanted what they had. Turned out most of them were Catholic Christians. Once I asked them how they got through the day and what their faith was like, they shared with me. If they'd tried that before I asked them, I might have run to another workplace.

Something to think about. Sorry for the length.

Preservation Grunt

Just dubbing and documenting/cataloguing recorded concerts today:

- '75 Toronto Symphony plays: Wagner, Mozart, Roh Ogura and R. Strauss.

- '75 Toronto Symphony plays: Stravinsky and Orff.

Recorded on 1/4 tape with Dolby encoding no less.

I think somebody's watch went off in the Stravinsky. It certainly sounded like a 70s-era watch alarm.

Gah! Spilled the rubbing alcohol! Oh well, at least part of my desk is cleaner now.

Funny reference question

A student asked me if we have "Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life." I've been amusing myself all morning trying to imagine what that would be like. I think it would involve insects and spinster librarians.Anyone else have any ideas?

More on the Wardrobe Malfunction

Story here from The Economist, with photo for those who care, about the difference between Britain & Europe and the good old USA regarding Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction." According to the Economist, Miss Jackson's breast topped internet search subjects after the incident was reported.

in the basement with the ghost

I would like to get some inventorying done tonight. Most of the computers are in the basement, where the ghost lives. He also lives in the closed stacks. I have yet to see this ghost, but there are people who swear he's there. I don't know who he was, supposedly. It's a great creepy old building for a ghost though. If I were a ghost, I'd want to haunt there.

The closed stacks are scary in and of themselves. They've got Alien flooring. It's sort of this translucent glass, so you can see the lights glowing up from the floor below. It's actually quite dizzying.

So whether there is a ghost or not, the old building is scary, or at least, intimidating, at night. Heck, sometimes it's scary during the day.

Still trying to work an angle to see if I can't get at least some sort of timed access software in before next fiscal year (although by the time I work out the costs, next fiscal year will be here. It is the middle of February already, after all.) I'd like to apply for some technology grants, and I'd like a number that's at least somewhat accurate of how many people use our internet daily. It's impossible on a sign up sheet. You should see our sign up sheet. Holy moses.

The City IT Guy wrote to me yesterday. I don't know what's lamer... that he was writing on a Sunday or I was checking email on a Sunday. He wants a wish list from me. I want all new computers. I so know that's not coming. I think he meant as far as keyboards and mice, and perhaps monitors go. I suppose it can't hurt to ask though, eh?

It's become clear that if we set up for wireless, it's going to be necessary to update our PCs building wide. Most employees can stay wired. But it would be nice to perhaps spread some PCs out (with timed access software to keep fights to a minimum of course) upstairs. It would cause less stagnation down in reference, where we're trying to get to the reference books.

I'm not even pondering wireless for use of laptops. It might bring more people to the library, but so would a coffee shop a la Barnes and Noble. But it sure would make configuring internet terminals in a building not really well designed for computers much, much easier.

the inaugural entry

well, i suppose this first entry should serve as my introduction; my coming out if you will...so, let's see -- i'm in library school at an unnamed state university. i love my classes; hate my classmates. i've also been looking for a full-time job for the past nine months after finishing my first master's degree which has been a full-time job in itself and one with no financial gain so far. i recently moved back home with my parents and thus have been enjoying a not so slow descent into hell, but i digress...i believe in free access to information, so if you want to know -- just ask.

Good news bad news

The good news is, the printer station is in fact compatible with Macs, despite what the gentleman at the copier place said. The bad news: it's going to confuse the bejeebies out of our patrons. I mean, I'm a little confused, because my Mac knowledge is limited, and for some reason the print spooler prints to the monitor, not the printer. Go figure.

You Got Feeds

You may notice all the journals have an button now. You may not notice, or ever care.

I've also had no luck enabling the ability to moderate and post in the same thread. I thouhgt it would be easy, but it seems to be a bit more difficult than I had hoped. Any know perl see something wrong with this?

Moving beyond "They hate our freedom" - Crisis of Islam

Much of the conversation you will hear about America's troubles in the world center around two poles -- that of the President, who routinely says we are attacked because "They hate our freedom" and that of the far left, which has "America is finally getting payback." This last message is branded by conservatives as "blaming America first."

Today I'm recommending the book - "The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror" by Bernard Lewis, copyright 2003, ISBN 0-679-64281-1 because it points out the errors of both sides. This very readable book has an overview of the basic tenets of Islam in relation to government and relationships outside the faithful. As someone who has had a few mideast history classes, it seems fair to mainstream Islamic beliefs. If there's a Muslim out there who has read this book, please comment for us.

Mr. Lewis goes on to trace Islamic - Western relations from the time of the crusades to the present. He notes both Western and Islamic failures.

One of Mr. Lewis' points that may give some comfort to the "They hate our freedom" crowd is by pointing out that other countries such as Syria committed heinous crimes against fellow Muslims (See pages 107-108 for Syrian massacre at Hama, which killed at least 10,000) and yet are not censured by other Muslim nations or groups. As America is the strongest military power in the West, Mr. Lewis suggests we'd be in for some hate no matter what we do.

HOWEVER, Mr. Lewis also rightly acknowledges a vicious double standard held by both the United States and Europe that has led to much suffering and gathering anger in the Mideast:

"As many Middle Easterners see it, the European and American governments' basic position is: "We don't care what you do to your own people at home, so long as you are cooperative in meeting our needs and protecting our interests." - Page 107.

This American attitude in the Mideast exists today. Listen to the President whenever he speaks of greater democracy and freedom. He'll never mention our despotic friends by name. Think back to his November 2003 speech calling for democracy "from Damascus to Tehran." Why not Cairo to Riyadh? Or Cairo to whatever is the capital of despotic ally Turkmenistan? Until the President starts holding our undemocratic allies to real accountability, his rhetoric will ring false for me.

Sorry for the digression, but I didn't know where else to put it. Please read "Crisis of Islam." Especially if you are not familiar with Islamic government and jurisprudence. It is very interesting and relatively balanced.

If you're in the "They hate our freedom crowd," then know that this book is at the top of the Air Force Chief of Staff Professional Reading List. Aren't you curious why the military finds this book worthwhile reading?

Busting rock, um, er, um, ice blocks

In recognition of the cold, wet nastiness that was coming about yesterday, the university's Department of Public Safety issued an order for all resident students to remove their cars from parking lots by 0200 EST Saturday. The key reason for this was to allow maintenance staff access to the resident student parking lots to try to scrape down to pavement and remove as much ice and snow as they could.

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