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Mountain Parents Scorn Textbooks

Public School Texts Cleansed of All Controversy?*

May 8, 2003

*Republished with permission from the author

Say you are a school textbook publisher attempting to peddle your wares in an already over-saturated market. Your book has the potential to sell millions of copies nationwide -- territory usually reserved for writers like Dr. Phil or the ubiquitous Chicken Soup books known for their longtime ranking on the New York Times best seller list -- and the only thing standing in the way of your success is the textbook selection committee from the California Board of Education. What do you do?

"You do what they say," said Markus Hanson, vice president of marketing for Barrow Books, a San Francisco-based imprint of Houghton Mifflin -- one of the most esteemed publishers of educational textbooks and tests. "Our market potential in California alone can be equal what we sell in the other 49 states combined. Basically, what the California board decides is what we have to go with -- as long as the knowledge content of the title remains uncompromised," Hanson said.

That is the point of contention for a group of mountain area residents whose children attend the various schools within the Rim of the World unified School District.

"I'm really angered by it," said one mother of two school-age children who requested her name be withheld. "I teach my kids one thing, and then it seems they can just be sent off to school and be untaught everything I tried to teach them," she said as she waited for her children outside a Sunday School classroom at Lake Gregory Community Church. "No wonder so many of us are home schooling our kids."

According to Rim High School Principal Guy Bonanno, "We have to buy our books off the approved book list like every other publicly funded school in California; however, our teachers aren't in 100 percent agreement with the policy. The bottom line is . . . while the book may say one thing, our instructors are going to continue to teach what they need to teach. It's not a huge issue when it comes to the classroom." A consolation for history teachers who refer to the men who established the first U.S. government as 'The Founding Fathers'. According to the textbook selection committee, the nations founders must be referred to as 'The Framers' or 'The Founders'.

A primary contention for the parents? "I don't like that this one little group of know-it-alls can demand all the books can be stripped of total accuracy for the sake of political correctness," said Don Wyler, stepfather to two Rim High students, who is upset by a list of banned words handed out during a class. "My kids had a good laugh about it, and their teacher was showing them how silly it all is. Then I got to thinking, this ain't right," Wyler said.

Some targeted words and phrases include 'lumberjack', which is banned as sexist and is replaced with 'woodcutter'; 'Chief Sitting Bull' banned from history texts as a relic of colonialism, replaced with 'Tatanka Iyotake', Chief Bull's Navajo name. (Oops -- Navajo has been banned as 'inauthentic' -- replace Navajo with Din/.) And of course 'God' is banned, and is not being replaced with any other descriptive name. "That's the one that's angered me the most. How can they do that?" Wyler asked. For what it is worth, the board also banned the word 'devil' from all textbooks.

Other phrases not making the approved list: 'Blind leading the blind' (offensive); 'Confined to a wheelchair' (insensitive); 'Mother Russia' (sexist); 'Old wives' tale' (sexist); 'Senior citizen' (demeaning to older persons); and 'yacht' (elitist).

Besides the banned words and phrases, the board has also chosen certain stereotyped images publishers are to avoid in text, illustrations and reading passages. For instance, 'Images to Avoid' include women portrayed as teachers, mothers, nurses and/or secretaries; women of achievement who are domineering, aggressive or lacking in personal attributes; and women as more nurturing than men.

In the new textbooks, men cannot be shown as active problem solvers; men cannot be shown playing sports or working with tools; men and boys cannot be shown as larger or heavier than women; the father, expressionless or relaxed in trying circumstances; and boys must not be depicted as strong, rough or competitive while girls are shown as peaceful, emotional or warm.

People of color must never be depicted as being angry, nor must they be shown as politically liberal. Also, according to the new guidelines, African-Americans may not be depicted who have 'white features', must not be shown in crowded tenements on chaotic streets -- in abandoned buildings with wash hanging out -- or living in innocuous, dull white-picket-fence neighborhoods.

Native Americans cannot be shown performing a rain dance, living on reservations, may not be seen having long hair, braids or headbands, and may not be portrayed as people who live in harmony with nature.

Asian-Americans may not be shown as very intelligent, excellent scholars or as ambitious, hardworking or competitive. Asian-Americans must also not be shown as having strong family ties; Chinese people having great food; or Korean-Americans owning or working in fruit markets.

Hispanics cannot be seen as warm, expressive or emotional; must never be shown as migrant workers; wearing bright colors while older women wear black and girls always wear dresses; or Mexicans grinding corn.

The elderly (sorry -- that one is banned as ageist . . . replace it with 'older person') must never be shown in nursing homes or with canes, walkers, wheelchairs, orthopaedic shoes, or wearing eyeglasses; they must never be seen as funny, absentminded, fussy or charming; older people must not be shown taking an afternoon nap, having a 'twinkle' in their eyes, losing their hearing or sight, or suffering aches and pains. Finally, older people must not be depicted fishing, baking, knitting, whittling, reminiscing, rocking in chairs or watching television.

Readers who believe the board of education is insane (Eek! Another banned word, replaced that one with 'person who has an emotional disorder or psychiatric illness . . . ) with political correctness, and who wish to have a copy of the complete list of banned words and phrases (great at parties! Oops, I mean 'social gatherings' . . . ) may request one via e-mail at [see list below] and it will be consigned via electronic allocation dispatch forthwith. In other, less-approved words: We'll send you one.

Used with permission from the Mountain News (Lake Arrowhead, San Bernardino County, California)

Courtesy of Davey Porter, here is the list to be used by writers, editors and illustrators when preparing textbooks for K-12 students in California.

Adam and Eve (replace with 'Eve and Adam' to demonstrate that males do not take priority over females)
Blind, the (banned as offensive; replace with 'people who are blind')
Blind leading the blind (banned as handicapism)
Bookworm (banned as offensive; replace with 'intellectual')
Boys' night out (banned as sexist)
Busybody (banned as sexist; demeaning to older women)
Cassandra (banned as sexist)
Chief Sitting Bull (banned as relic of colonialism; replace with 'Tatanka Iyotake')
Confined to a wheelchair (banned as offensive; replace with 'person who is mobility impared')
Courageous (banned as patronizing when referring to a person with disabilities)
Craftsmanship (banned as sexist)
Cult (banned as ethnocentric when referring to a religious group)
Deaf, the (banned as offensive; replace with 'people who are deaf' or 'a person with a loss of hearing')
Devil (banned)
Dialect (banned as ethnocentric; use sparingly)
Differently abled (banned as offensive; replace with 'person who has a physical disability')
Dogma (banned as ethnocentric; replace with 'doctrine' or 'belief')
Drunken, Drunkeness (banned as offensive when referring to Native Americans)
Duffer (banned as demeaning to old men)
East, Eastern (banned as Eurocentric)
Egghead (banned as offensive; replace with 'intellectual')
Elderly, the (banned as ageist; replace with 'older people')
Extremist (banned as ethnocentric; replace with 'believer', 'follower', or 'adherent')
Fairy (banned because it suggests homosexuality; replace with 'elf')
Fanatic (banned as ethnocentric; replace with 'believer', 'follower', or 'adherent')
Founding Fathers, the (banned as sexist; replace with 'the founders' or 'the framers')
Fraternize (banned as sexist)
God (banned)
Heiress (banned as sexist; replace with 'heir')
Hell (banned; replace with 'heck' or 'darn')
Heretic (use with caution when comparing religions)
Heroine (banned as sexist; replace with 'hero')
Huts (banned as ethnocentric; replace with 'small houses')
Insane (banned as offensive; replace with 'person who has an emotional disorder or psychiatric illness')
Inspirational (banned as patronizing when referring to a person with disabilities)
Jungle (banned; replace with 'rain forest')
Junk bonds (banned as elitist)
Lame (banned as offensive; replace with 'walks with a cane')
Limping along (banned as handicapism)
Little person (banned as offensive; replace with 'person of small stature')
Lumberjack (banned as sexist; replace with 'woodcutter')
Majority group (banned as offensive)
Man of war (banned as sexist; replace with 'warship')
Mentally ill, the (banned as offensive; replace with 'person with a mental or emotional disability')
Middle East (banned as reflecting a Eurocentric world view; replace with 'Southwest Asia'; may be acceptable, however, as a historical reference)
Minority group (banned as offensive)
Mother Russia (banned as sexist; replace with 'Russia, vast land of rich harvests')
Navajo (banned as inauthentic; replace with 'Diné')
Old (banned as an adjective that implies helplessness, dependency, or other negative qualities)
Old wives' tale (banned as sexist; replace with 'folk wisdom')
Ombudsman (banned as sexist)
One-man band (banned as sexist; replace with 'one-person performance')
Pagan (banned as ethnocentric when referring to religion; replace with 'non-believer')
Paraplegic (banned as offensive; replace with 'person with paraplegia')
Past one's prime (banned as demeaning to older persons)
Pollyana (banned as sexist)
Polo (banned as elitist)
Regatta (banned as elitist)
Roving the land (banned as reference to Native Americans)
Satan (banned)
Sect (banned as ethnocentric when referring to a religious group, unless separated from an established religion)
Senile (banned as demeaning to older person)
Senior citizen (banned as demeaning to older person)
Slave (replace whenever possible with 'enslaved person')
Snowman (banned; replace with 'snow person')
Soul food (banned as regional or ethnic bias)
Stickball (banned as regional or ethnic bias)
Straw man (banned as sexist; replace with 'unreal issue' or 'misrepresentation')
Subgroup (banned as offensive reference to cultural differences)
Sufferer of cerebral palsy (banned as offensive; replace with 'person who has lost muscle control')
Suffragette (banned as sexist; replace with 'suffragist')
Tomboy (banned as sexist)
Turning a deaf ear (banned as handicapism)
West, Western (banned as Eurocentric)
Yacht (banned as elitist)


Girls and Women/Boys and Men: Images to avoid:

  • Women portrayed as teachers, mothers, nurses, and/or secretaries
  • Women of achievement who are domineering or aggressive
  • Women aging less gracefully than men
  • Women as more nurturing than men
  • Men as active problem solvers
  • Men playing sports, working with tools
  • Men and boys larger and heavier than women and girls
  • Father expressionless or relaxed in trying circumstances
  • Females more preoccupied with their appearance than males
  • Pioneer woman riding in covered wagon while man walks
  • Women as passengers on a sailboat or sipping hot chocolate in a ski lodge
  • Girls as peaceful, emotional, warm
  • Boys as strong, rough, competitive
  • Boys as intelligent, logical, mechanical
  • Boys as good at math and science

People of color: Images to avoid:

  • People of color as being angry
  • People of color as politically liberal

African-American people: Images to avoid:

  • African-Americans who have white features or all look alike
  • African-Americans in crowded tenements on chaotic streets; in big, bright cars; in abandoned buildings with broken windows and wash hanging out; or living in innocuous, dull white-picket-fence neighborhoods
  • African-Americans who are baggage handlers

Native-American people: Images to avoid:

  • Native Americans performing a rain dance
  • Native Americans who are not part of the American mainstream
  • Native Americans living in rural settings or on reservations
  • Native Americans with long hair, braids, headbands
  • Native Americans portrayed as people who live in harmony with nature

Asian-American people: Images to avoid:

  • Asian-Americans as very intelligent, excellent scholars
  • Asian-Americans as ambitious, hardworking, and competitive
  • Asian-Americans as having strong family ties
  • Chinese people who have great food
  • Korean-Americans owning or working in fruit markets

Hispanic-American people: Images to avoid:

  • Hispanics who are migrant workers
  • Hispanics who are warm, expressive, and emotional
  • Hispanics in urban settings (ghettos or barrios)
  • Hispanics wearing bright colors, older women in black, girls always in dresses
  • o Mexicans grinding corn

Persons who are older: Images to avoid:

  • Older people in nursing homes or with canes, walkers, wheelchairs, orthopaedic shoes, or eyeglasses
  • Older people as ill, physically weak, feeble or dependent
  • Older people as funny, absentminded, fussy, or charming
  • Older people who have twinkles in their eyes, need afternoon naps, lose their hearing or sight, suffer aches and pains
  • Older people who are retired, are at the end of their careers, have lived the most fruitful years of their lives, or are engaged in a life of leisure activities
  • Older people living with their offspring or with other relatives
  • Older people who are fishing, baking, knitting, whittling, reminiscing, rocking in chairs, or watching television

A Note from Mary

Mary Leggewie says: "If you think you're safe from this garbage because you don't live in California, you'd better think twice. California and Texas drive the standards for textbooks used in the ENTIRE country. This IS coming to a textbook near YOU! This should be fair warning that you do NOT want to be using public school programs and their textbooks. There was quite a bit of humorous discussion on our Main Message Board about this list, and the consensus seemed to be that schools should just give the students blank books and let the students write the history." Resources Related to This Article

Interview with Cathy Duffy, author of Government Nannies
Give to Caesar What Is Caesar's
Charter Schools: Gift or Seduction?"
The Cost of Public School
Home Eating a Threat to Public Kitchens?
California Charter Schools
Public Schools Have Been Failing for Years
Rebuttal on Some Words of Concern for Public School Administrators