Lovers of language and literature, especially those with children or grandchildren still in Grades K-12, will find The Language Police by education historian Diane Ravitch riveting, revelatory, and extremely disturbing.
The Language Police is an exposé of the practice of systematic self-censoring by textbook manufacturers to avoid offending either the political right or the left.
Ravitch, an education historian who has worked in the administrations of both political parties, says she learned only gradually that
educational materials are now governed by an intricate set of rules to screen out language and topics that might be considered controversial or offensive.
The systematic censorship Ravitch describes stems from “bias and sensitivity” guidelines provided by state textbook selection committees and other groups.
Such guidelines proscribe words, phrases, images, and concepts that someone—anyone— might consider sexist, religious, elitist, ageist, regionalist, or unhealthful.
Here are a few of the words and phrases writers are warned to avoid or to exclude outright when writing for the educational market:
able-bodied seaman, actress
cabin boy, cameraman, caveman, cult
devil, dogma, dwarf
Eskimo, fairy, fanatic, fat, fisherman
God, gringo, gypsy
heathen, hell, heroine, hut
jungle, junk bond, juvenile delinquent
Middle East, maniac, myth
night watchman, nobleman, normal
old, old wives’ tale
pagan, papoose, past one’s prime, polo
Satan, schoolboy, schoolgirl, seamstress, Sioux, slave, snow cone, snowman,
soul food, stick ball, swarthy
tomboy, tote bag, tribal warfare, tribe, turn a deaf ear to
For a detailed description of The Language Police, read the review by science teacher Anne C. Westwater in The Textbook Letter, Vol. 12, No.4 of the Textbook League.