"I can be what I want, I can do what I do," smiles the little red-haired girl as she deftly tosses a basketball through a hoop. "I have to be me. And you have to be you."
The liberated child pictured in a primary reader that was recently approved for use in Montgomery County schools is a far cry from the doll-toting girls who graced older, more traditional textbooks. In modern schoolbooks, Jane is more likely to play astronaut than to play house.
A major reason for this change is the pressure exerted on publishers by minority-interest groups and women's organizations. Publishers have been rewriting textbooks that formerly portrayed most of the active, powerful characters as white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males.
Another factor is economics. School systems, such as those in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, now follow guidelines that prohibits the purchase of books that include derogatory stereotypes.
In both counties, textbooks are approved for school use by evaluation committees that select instructional materials to support the school curriculum.
In recent years, anti-bias guidelines have been added to the list of evaluation criteria. Committee members may now reject new books or purge old ones that portray sexist, racist, religious or ethnic bias. For example, "Little Black Sambo," "Greek and Roman Civilization" and "The Hunken Dunkens" were all recalled and sent to the shredder in Montgomery County.
Sambo was declared racist, and the civilization book was said to exhibit religious stereotyping. Hunkern Dunken, a bachelor who becomes a family man by patronizing a wife store and a children store, was called sexist.
The "Children's Dictionary of Occupations," newly approved by the Prince George's school system, exemplifies the current nonsexist, nonracist schoolbook outlook. Both sexes and minority groups are pictured working in professions that traditionally had been protrayed as male-dominated. In addition, the books picture men working at jobs such as secretaries and cooks.
Both counties have similar procedures for deciding which books make the approved list. Each county organizes evaluation and selection committees with separate groups for each study area, such as elementary mathematics or secondary social studies.
In Montgomery County, teachers, libraries and principals serve on each committee, with the county subject-area curriculum coordinator serving as chairman. Committees may have as many as 40 peoples or as few as two people.
The single most important anti-bias guideline is the question, "Does the reading of this book make a small child in the classroom feel less about himself than he really is?" explained Frances Dean, director of the Montgomery County Division of Instructional Materials.
In Prince George's County each of the 43 selection committees has at least four members. The central office supervisor for each study area is the chairman of a committee, and one fourth of the membership of each committee must be county residents, who need not have any professional expertise in the subject area.
A recent workship for Prince George's school staff focused on raising the awareness of bias in material, said Ed Barth, supervisor of library media services. "A picture of a girl with her hands behind her back watching Johnny go down the hill in a soapbox derby may look innocent," Barth said. "But what is it telling the girls and boys?"
Since state guidelines require materials evaluation to continue throughout the year, the committees are continually evaluating new texts and adding new names to the list of approved materials.
All new books approved by the comittees are displayed on shelves in their respective instructional materials offices. In Montgomery County, the books are displayed at 850 Hungerford Dr. in Rockville, and in Prince Goerge's, at the Palmer Park Services Center, 8437 Landover Rd, Landover.
Citizens are invited to inspect the books and may file a reevaluation request if they have objections to any text. If no reevaluation requests are filed within 30 days, the book is placed on the approved list.
Books already in use also may be reconsidered if a citizen files a request. An advisory committee is organized to reevaluate the material. The committee may disapprove the book and have it recalled or phased out, or it may approve the book and keep it in use.
Since a book's life expectancy is about five years in Montgomery County, according to Dean, and about eight years in Prince George's County, according to Barth, books that are no longer approved for purchase normally are phased out as soon as the current volumes wear out.