The Language Police

The issue of censorship is a much like a rented mule, used and beaten six ways to Sunday. My contention has been that the "jack-ass" of soccer moms and deacon daddies is disingenuous and that "hidden" liberal censors are as much, if not more culpable.

Diane Ravitch's, The Language Police (A. Knopf 2003, 0375414827) vindicates my position with a cogent and clearly documented history of her personal experience working with the bias review boards within American test and textbook publishers. The travesty of this "censorship" is its scope and impact upon our children as compared to the flavor of censorship ALA prefers to attack. The "censorship" Ravitch exposes is much more insidious, involving a captured audience of nearly all American school age children to be "educated" by social engineering review boards.

Ne're a word from ALA.

The Council on Interracial Books for Children, National Organization for Women, American Library Association, NAACP, and bias review boards for every major textbook and test publisher are all major players in "censoring" what our children read. For the edification of my "freedom of speech" colleagues this book is a must read. Anything less is willful ignorance.

Some Language Police nuggets:


* A passage on peanuts and George Washington Carver was pooh poohed because bias reviewers opposed the term "African slave". They also objected to the historically correct fact that Spanish and Portuguese explorers defeated "native tribes".

*Bias reviewer rejected a passage about economic necessity of nineteenth century women who quilted for family income because portrayed women as "soft" and "submissive".

* An inspiring piece about a blind man who climbed Mount McKinley was purged because it suggested that "sightless" people might be somehow disadvantaged in mountain climbing as compared to sighted folks.

* The bias reviewers did like Aesop's The Fox and the Crow, just not the gender of the characters. They proposed making both characters the same sex or the fox female and the crow male.

* A Native American animal fable edited by William J Bennett was tossed out because it told of animals "emerging from the darkness to find sunlight". Apparently bias reviewers felt some type of racial bias with this.

* An eco-friendly story (or at least one would assume) about a rotting stump that provided shelter and food for animals was chopped because the writer made the mistake of comparing it to an apartment. Seems the bias review board felt this contained a negative stereotype of people who live in apartments.


* In 2001 Houghton Mifflin added new criteria for their editors regarding African Americans. Stories about slavery, Underground Railroad, dialect, or depictions of athletes, musicians or entertainers should be avoided. Asians should not be portrayed as prodigies or valedictorians, Latinos not as migrant workers or illegal aliens and "disabled persons" not as pirates, witches or criminals (no more Captain Hook)

* Barbara Cohen's Molly's Pilgrim, a story about a Russian Jewish immigrant girl's first Thanksgiving in America, was accepted by a textbook publisher. Unfortunately all mention of Jews, Sukkos, God and the Bible had been removed on behalf of atheists who would object.

*Stephen Vincent Benet's The Devil and Daniel Webster was "edited" as well. For example, "Help me! For God's sake, help me!" was changed to "Help me! I beg of you, help me!" . Walter Van Tilburg Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident had one of it's lines "By the Lord God, men" changed to "By heaven, men". Again, the atheists.

*Not only are McGraw-Hill illustrators required to maintain a 50-50 balance between sexes in their art, they are required to include captions when a women were not full participants. George Washington crossing the Delaware must include a caption pointing out women were excluded from important military roles until the late twentieth century. Some other guidelines forbid:

  • women wearing aprons
  • mothers shopping
  • fathers looking calm in trying circumstances
  • girls watching boys play ball
  • only girls playing with dolls
  • girls jumping from snakes
  • pioneer women doing domestic work
  • women as passengers on sailboats
  • women as nurses, teachers and yes librarians

The list of "outlawed" words is lengthy. In fact it is a dictionary in and of itself. A sampling:

  • Able-bodied
  • Adam and Eve
  • America/Americans
  • Backward
  • Birth defect
  • Bookworm
  • Career woman
  • Clergyman
  • Costume
  • Cowboy
  • Courageous
  • Craftsman
  • Disabled
  • Downs Syndrome
  • Elderly
  • Eskimo
  • Fairy
  • Fat
  • Fisherman (sorry Hemingway)
  • Gay
  • Girl
  • God
  • He
  • Heroine
  • Idiot
  • Inconvenienced
  • Jungle
  • Kaffir
  • Lazy
  • Maid
  • Man
  • Maven
  • Middle East
  • Minority group
  • Mothering
  • Mysterious
  • Normal
  • Papoose
  • Polo
  • Regatta
  • Seaman
  • Senile
  • Snow Ball
  • Soda
  • Sophisticated
  • Stickball
  • Swarthy
  • Wife
  • Yacht


Hi Tomeboy,Thanks for suggesting the "Language Police." I'll try to make time for it after I get done with Lewis' "Crisis of Islam." I've heard some of these stories before -- like one NY exam board taking out "God" from Jewish writers and racial ephitets out of the works of black writers trying to make a deliberate point about race relations.As with many issues, I don't think liberals alone can be blamed for textbook censorship. For example, the ultraconservative Texas Education Board has a long history of pressuring textbook writers to eliminate or minimize references to evolution.Here's a New York Times story on the subject, along with a summary:Title: Textbook Publishers Learn: Avoid Messing With Texas.Author(s): Stille, AlexanderNewspaper: New York Times; 6/29/2002, Front Page"Focuses on Texas, the second biggest buyer of textbooks in the U.S. Outlook for public hearings by the Texas State Board of Education on which history and social studies books to adopt; Coalition that was formed by conservative organizations; How many publishers write their books with the Texas and California markets in mind"I agree with you that ALA, or perhaps AASL (American Association of School Librarians) should be more active on this issue if we stand for intellectual freedom -- although we librarians generally don't get involved until something is actually written, web-posted, recorded, etc.I'm just saying that it's not right to say (maybe I'm reading too much into this because its late at night in Alaska) "Liberals = Evil" anymore than it's right to say "Conservatives = Evil" You know where I stand, but I can honestly say that some liberals (Bill Clinton) were pretty dispicable and some conservatives (Butch Otter) have done some really positive things.Well, I'll call it a night now. I really will look up "Language Police."

No question Daniel. Conservatives, particularly as you mention in Texas, have certainly had their black Sharpies out as well. Ravitch's book covers this, and the fact that this landscape has recently changed in Texas in deference to liberals.

My point, as I mention in the post, is that liberals are "as culpable if not more". No intention to exonerate conservatives, just an appeal for accuracy and truth regarding the other "ugly" side of censorship. A side that I find more disturbing given its complicit and hidden nature on behalf of organizations rarely vilified for censorship. The scope of impact is far greater as well.

Your willingness to discuss and admit that liberals are involved with censorship is something I hope our colleagues will consider with likewise open minds.

Again, good points Daniel!

I've always liked her books and the topics she chooses. I'll have to go look for this one at the library.

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