John Leo on textbooks' smothering sensitivity(6/30/03)
- Dear Friends,
Some of my friends and relatives have occasionally asked me why with all
of my knowledge of history that I never wanted to go into teaching. My
response has always been that the curriculum in the schools these days has been
dumbed down to the point of utter boredom with textbooks having been excised of
The following article by John Leo will give you a taste of what I mean.
Were I to actually go into teaching it would be on the condition that I would
not use any of the "approved" vacuous textbooks now used in the schools for
world and US history. I would look for old books from the 1950s or 1960s that
were published before the thought police took over the field of education.
If you took this dumbing down of the curriculum and its political
correctness and combined it with grade inflation and political indoctrination you
would get students who graduated high schools in the US who had not the vaguest
idea of their historical heritage nor any context in understanding our
Our universities do not correct the problem, anyone graduating these days
from our higher education system who has a good knowledge of history and
politics that was not politically slanted got that knowledge from independent
study. It cannot be gained from taking courses.
Unfortunately, I see no solution on the horizon. Most of my friends are
independent thinkers and self selected historians on the Internet because
locally such people are so few in number that they are impossible to find. The
Internet has provided the technology needed to allow us to find each other.
Some of you will get several copies of this email because I think it
important enough of a topic, to me at least, that I would like to share this
little essay with more than just my friends on my political list.
If you would like to write a little essay on our modern education system
I would be happy to circulate it. If you would like to get onto my political
discussion list, let me know.
Best regards, John Piscopo
<A HREF="http://www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/030630/opinion/30john.htm">Click here: U.S. News: John Leo on textbooks' smothering
Now cut that out! By John Leo
Browse through an <A HREF="http://www.usnews.com/usnews/opinion/jleo.htm">archive</A> of columns by John Leo.
Which of the following stories would be too biased for schools to allow on
tests? 1) Overcoming daunting obstacles, a blind man climbs Mount McKinley; 2)
dinosaurs roam the Earth in prehistoric times; 3) an Asian-American girl, whose
mother is a professor, plays checkers with her grandfather and brings him
As you probably guessed, all three stories are deeply biased. 1) Emphasis on
a "daunting" climb implies that blindness is some sort of disability, when it
should be viewed as just another personal attribute, like hair color. Besides,
mountain-climbing stories are examples of "regional bias," unfair to readers
who live in deserts, cities, and rural areas. 2) Dinosaurs are a no-no--they
imply acceptance of evolutionary theory. 3) Making the girl's mother a
professor perpetuates the "model minority" myth that stereotypes Asian-Americans.
Older people must not be shown playing checkers. They should be up on the roof
fixing shingles or doing something vigorous. And pizza is a junk food. Kids may
eat it--but not in a school story.
That's what's going on in schools these days. Diane Ravitch's new book, The
Language Police, documents "an intricate set of rules" applied to test
questions as well as textbooks. A historian of education who served as an assistant
secretary of education for the first President Bush, Ravitch offers many
eye-catching cases of subjects vetoed: peanuts as a good snack (some children are
allergic), owls (taboo in Navajo culture), and the palaces of ancient Egypt
Back in the 1980s and '90s, lots of us chuckled at the spread of the
"sensitivity" industry in schools. Words were removed from tests and books lest they
hurt someone's feelings, harm the classroom effort, or impair morals. Most of
us assumed that this was a fad that would soon disappear as grown-ups in
education exerted the rule of reason.
But ridicule had little effect, and grown-ups either converted to the
sensitivity ethic or looked the other way. Textbook publishers, with millions of
dollars at stake, learned to insulate themselves from criticism by caving in to
all objections and writing craven "guidelines" to make sure authors would cave,
No, no, no! Ravitch warns that these guidelines amount to a full-blown form
of "censorship at the source" in schools and "something important and
dangerous" that few people know about. She blames both the religious right and the
multicultural-feminist left. The right objects to evolution, magic and witchcraft,
gambling, nudity, suicide, drug use, and stories about disobedient children.
The left objects to "sexist" fairy tales, Huckleberry Finn, religion, smoking,
junk food, guns and knives, and what some guidelines call "activities
stereotyping" (blacks as athletes, men playing sports or working with tools, women
cooking or caring for children).
What started out as a sensible suggestion--don't always show women as
homemakers or minorities in low-level jobs--developed into hard reverse stereotypes
(women must not be shown in the home, maids can't be black). "In the ideal
world of education-think," Ravitch writes, "women would be breadwinners,
African-Americans would be academics, Asian-Americans would be athletes and no one
would be a wife or a mother."
Whites are a group, perhaps the only group, not protected by smothering
sensitivity. This follows multicultural dogma. One set of guidelines (McGraw-Hill)
"express[es] barely concealed rage against people of European ancestry" as
"uniquely responsible for bigotry and exploitation," Ravitch notes.
What can be done? Ravitch recommends eliminating the current system in which
22 states adopt textbooks for all their schools. She says it results in
cartel-like behavior that allows extremists to manipulate textbook requirements,
particularly in the two big states that matter most--California and Texas.
Opening up the market, she thinks, would free teachers to choose biographies,
histories, or anthologies, rather than sensitivity-laden textbooks.
Panels that analyze tests and texts should include teachers of the subjects,
not just diversity specialists, Ravitch says. She insists we need
better-educated teachers and an end to secrecy about sensitivity: State education
officials must put bias and sensitivity reviews on the Internet, listing the reasons
that passages and test items were rejected.
Unsurprisingly, The Language Police has gotten the cold shoulder from our
education establishment, which usually limits discussion to three topics:
promoting diversity, reducing classroom size, and increasing funding. Ravitch speaks
for parents more concerned about something else: substituting censorship and
propaganda for actual learning.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]