Ravitch book, The Language Police Sees Major Remedies Needed

New Book Charts Dangerous Trends in Corporate Textbook World

While describing its stranglehold on American education, Diane Ravitch also cites one sure remedy for the ills now built into the writing, editing, and choosing of textbooks for our public schools:  let individual teachers make their own choices.

Her new book, The Language Police, notes that currently most teachers have no choice as to what texts they can use.  From kindergarten to 12th grade most schools have them assigned from above.  School officials and committees decide for whole districts, or state departments of education do so for entire states.  Citizens of course have input ・but the current process leaves kids as if guinea pigs, lab rats, and Rorschach tests ・and schools as battlegrounds ・for groups pressing conformities from left and right.

As if a New Version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Ravitch describes how America痴 competing special interest groups, especially in key larger states, weigh in at every stage of textbook adoption.  She shows how the corporate text publishers have carried compromise and fear of controversy into rigorous lists of things to avoid.  Publishers and the standardized test makers entwined with them have learned to make massive reductions in permitted vocabulary, lest anyone be offended by anything.  And they致e delimited whole areas of human experience as taboo.

If a child, for instance, is from an urban area, no text may tell stories of other kids in mountains, or forests, or on prairies, lest city kid feel left out by cultural, social, or natural differences.  If a child is from a small town, similar rules apply:  no text or test may cite anything that may ever let anyone feel any less privileged in any way.  No one may ever cite war, smoking, nudity, pregnancy, rap, rock地池oll, drugs, abuse, race, alcohol, disease, witches, divorce, farms, dinosaurs, or dozens more possibly skittish areas.

Ravitch says no wonder literacy declines across America.  Teachers have learned to skirt so many areas, and avoid so much real life, to stress instead the generalized and generic.  Like that Don Siegal 1956 film about the small town in California where people one by one lose all passion and humanity, American schools now inflict the same banality on all.

Essaying Differences Uses No Texts ・Ever!

The Language Police describes this worsening as corporate text publishers and standardized test makers abet it.  A few large states place such huge textbook orders every year that publishers can make money only if they go along with the pressures for circumscribed vocabulary and reduced experience.  Ravitch says letting teachers pick their own texts can end the committee-&-corporate processes now acceding to paranoia and fear.  Choosing individually could let in the fresh air of wider literacy and humanity.

She does not consider college and university texts.  At those levels professors and instructors have more choices ・though higher education shows illnesses in its textbooks similar to those she cites for K-12.  Community colleges, state universities, and the elite research schools all show similar spirals into specialization, with everybody divided into departments, all learning to be oblivious of all others.

College and university texts further isolate and elaborate specialization.  By these texts every department delimits its turf, each flaunting jargon as if it held substance ・the same feint in consumer culture that David Reisman called 渡iche differentiation.・ The tenured class gets paid well to edit and annotate texts so every field feeds but one imagination:  sub-dividable, segmented, modular, incremental, hierarchical.  Higher education material comes in new, improved forms every year, following the K-12 texts Ravitch notes escalating their own ever-new puffery of inter-textual graphics, charts, bulleted items, marginal addenda, and chapter-ending idiot questions.  Even in paperback all editions get more glossy and laminated, more expensive, and every year heavier and heavier, too.

Conceits of closure float all this enterprise.  As Ravitch says of  K-12 texts,  兎very . . . question has an answer, and [experts/texts] know what it is.・nbsp; Ditto for college texts.  In thrall to neat relationships and conclusions ・specialization closure ・faculty now seldom risk open, personal, or individual questions.  They rather fit syllabi 菟rofessionally・to replicate the workings of corporate texts.  More grade by multiple-choice. The messiness of humanity ・never mind literacy ・needn稚 intrude:  literacy has long sunk into composition ghettoes, its personnel proud of their own step-by-step, modular exercises.

Essaying Differences says:  no textbooks, ever.   Students instead cite their own cultures, seeing and quoting each other as if our cultures were texts, and we seamlessly part of them.  We perform.  We all live by props:  clothing, cuisine, body art and body language, transport, coiffures, and landscapes.  Our neighbors ・all 登thers・・do, too.

Essaying Differences says we can see into these performances by citing further culture illuminating them:  movies and music, or poets and writers such as Ravitch suggests in concluding her book.  We can test our themes and values ・and begin to connect to 登thers,・even as too many experts and comfortable academics say we cannot.

Philip Balla, Essaying Differences Proprietor, May, 2003

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