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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of June 4 - 10, 2003

Opinion Columns

Textbook storm troopers

Commentary by Pat Murphy

Researched and written tediously over time, school textbooks are by their nature out of date as they roll off printing presses: The world changes virtually hourly with new scientific achievements, political leaders coming and going, countries erupting in revolutions, wars beginning and ending.

Leave it to adults, however, to make a mess of what’s left of textbooks.

At the far left and far right extremes of America’s social spectrum, a small cult of parents, who’re terrified of words their darlings read, have panicked textbook publishers into a brutal censoring of textbook language.

Mind you, their concern is not lewd, lascivious, salacious, profane words. They want to butcher textbooks of everyday words that are taken for granted in conventional conversation but which they consider politically incorrect (on the left) or offensive to their fundamentalism (on the right).

Books that were offensive in Nazi Germany were simply burned and their authors jailed. In the United States today, social ideologues simply nibble away at school textbooks like sharks.

This national campaign of word purification is exposed in "The Language Police" (255 pp., Alfred Knopf, $24) by historian and professor Diane Ravitch, author of seven books on education. She was appointed by the first President Bush and President Clinton to conduct education research.

In a nutshell, Ravitch has discovered that activists especially in Texas and California, where school systems account for the lion’s share of national textbook purchases, have threatened four major publishers into purging words lest they lose big contracts.

So what sort of words and passages are eliminated?

Among 500 words author Ravitch discovered are polo and yacht (too elitist), babe and boyish figure (sexist), anchorman, caveman and snowman (gender bias), blind and bookworm (offensive), biddy, (ageist), dinosaurs (suggesting evolution), Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little (visions of mice upset children), quarreling parents (not uplifting), junk food (not healthful), peanuts (some children are allergic to peanuts), owls (symbols of death in some cultures), huts (too ethnocentric), soul food (ethnic bias).

Adam and Eve is reversed to Eve and Adam to show that men don’t have priority over women.

Images that publishers are told to avoid include women being more nurturing than men, men as problem solvers, men and boys larger and heavier than women and girls, African-Americans who are baggage handlers, Hispanics as migrant workers. And on and on to ridiculous extremes.

Decisions on what to purge are in the hands of school groups usually known as "Bias and Sensitivity Review Panel" or a variation.

This silly effort to shield students is ludicrously pointless: Students run across the same words and phrases on the Internet or TV and in movies.

But as author Ravitch points out, this mindless censorship of student learning is being regulated by ideological storm troopers, whom novelist and social critic George Orwell foresaw in his dark fictional "Big Brother" society, "1984," which is dedicated to distorting the truth.

The future is here.



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