Diane Ravitch: States Should Drop Textbook Reviews

Roundup: Talking About History

Diane Ravitch, in the Austin-American Statesman (Feb. 18, 2004):

The nation has come to expect a lot of laughs and outrage whenever Texas is engaged in the regular process of deciding which textbooks to buy (or"adopt") for public schools across the state.

In fact, schoolchildren in Texas and throughout the nation would be far better served if Texas eliminated the entire textbook adoption process.

Why should bureaucrats and elected officials have the power to tell publishers what to leave in and take out of their textbooks? Why should small advocacy groups have the power to demand that the books be revised to please them?....

History textbooks are subject to review by pressure groups that insist that words and events that offend them are removed. Feminists have gotten publishers to delete hundreds of words that begin or end with the three letters"man." Even the term Founding Fathers may no longer be used in U.S. history textbooks, because it offends feminists. Conservative groups have also gotten state education departments and publishers to drop words, sentences and paragraphs that refer to fossils, evolution, dinosaurs, witches and other topics that offend them.

In my recent book"The Language Police," I identified hundreds of words, topics and images that are carefully deleted from textbooks and state tests because of political pressure. Nowhere is this pressure more keenly felt than in the process of state textbook adoptions, where one-issue groups can intimidate state agencies and publishers with surprising ease by threatening to brand books" controversial."

State textbook adoption does not produce better textbooks. Because of the pressures exerted by the 21 states with adoption processes, all the books look like peas in a politically correct pod. All suffer from a dull uniformity. They carefully skirt controversy and avoid anything that might offend anyone.

Ironically, the states that do not adopt textbooks have higher test scores in reading and math.

Texas should show the way to the other 20 states that adopt textbooks by getting rid of this system. Its main effect is not to improve quality but to politicize and sanitize the books.

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