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The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, Diane Ravitch, Knopf, 2003, 272 pages, $24.00

Diane Ravitch has written a book about how pressure groups, primarily liberals and feminists, have made massive changes in the language of textbooks. These pressure groups are not government officials; they are private groups that dictate rules to textbook publishers, laying down long lists of words, phrases and pictures which pub-lishers are ordered to keep out of textbooks. Somehow, these pressure groups have achieved the clout of a police force, and that's why Ms. Ravitch calls her book The Language Police.

Ravitch explains why you can pick up any textbook and never see a male carpenter, a female nurse, a white male mathematician, a black janitor, an Irish policeman, or a Hispanic yardman. Those images are surely in the real world, but they are censored out of the fantasyland constructed by textbook censors. Adam and Eve must be replaced with Eve and Adam to demonstrate that males do not take priority over females.

The appendix, where Ms. Ravitch lists pages of these censored words, is the most interesting part of her book. The feminist thought police have banned as sexist these words: brotherhood, fellowship, forefathers, Founding Fathers, lady, ladylike, layman, mankind, manpower, middleman, mothering, motherland, and sportsmanship.

You are forbidden to use the feminine pronoun to refer to boats. You must replace the masculine pronouns (he and his) with plural words (they and their) even though that is terrible grammar.

Textbooks are forbidden to show pictures of mothers wearing aprons, men playing sports or working with tools, or girls in dresses or playing with dolls. It's hard to say which rule is the silliest, but perhaps it is the rule that textbooks cannot show men and boys as larger and heavier than women and girls.

The effort to retell history to please liberal interest groups has the effect of distorting it. Suddenly the American Revolution seems less about George Washington and more about women's rights. The Iroquois loom larger than the English as a source of ideas for the Constitution. Primitive African countries are portrayed as deeply concerned about women's issues and air pollution.

The Thought Police have created textbooks that are far out of touch with the real world.

(Visit Amazon.com, Randomhouse.com — Knopf is a division of Random House — or call 212/782-9000).

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