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Nonfiction

August 23, 1992|ALEX RAKSIN

WHAT JOHNNY SHOULDN'T READ: Textbook Censorship in America by Joan DelFattore (Yale: $25; 200 pp.). Sure, many of the radical Christian fundamentalists who seem to bear the brunt of the criticism in these pages have said some pretty wacky things in their recent courtroom battles against what they perceive to be racy textbooks. "Mare (sic) anarchy descends upon the world," one witness informed a jury, "and the culture collapses whether before what Toynbee calls the external Bavarian, the foreign foe, or what he calls the internal Bavarian, the probitarian, the classes within the society which has ceased to believe in anything and which give nothing to the state but their bodies and their prodigy."

But however loony some of the fundamentalists may be, Joan DelFattore, an English professor at the University of Delaware, does not support her contention that the changes they suggest in public school textbooks (e.g., that biology texts recount the Biblical tale of creation) should be taken less seriously than the changes liberals suggest (e.g., that African-American heroes receive more pages in a history textbook). Conservative challenges are less valid, she argues a bit too glibly, because they address more topics, from "the age of the Earth (to) the probable domestication of the dinosaurs." DelFattore offers a clear and thorough overview of the courtroom battles, but she doesn't seem to see that liberals and conservatives are both raising the same question: Which values and myths do we want to inculcate in our children?

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