During a recent curriculum review meeting, a social studies teacher looked at the US History final exam that had been used for years in the district. “Why are there 10 questions about the Alamo?” she asked.
Good question for teachers in Pennsylvania. While the Alamo may be interesting, should it comprise 10% of the final exam (and consequently, 10% of the year’s instruction)? With some digging, it didn’t take long for the group to realize that they were using the final exam provided by the textbook manufacturer, and that the textbook was designed for students in Texas. Thus began a deep discussion about the teaching of history, and the realization that sometimes no textbook is better than a significantly biased textbook.
Enter new information from a group of educators assessing proposed textbook updates for Texas — and this should be a concern for everyone. Because, as Texan textbooks get adopted, they are marketed to the rest of the United States:
Scholarly reviews of 43 proposed history, geography and government textbooks for Grades 6-12 — undertaken by the Education Fund of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog and activist group that monitors far-right issues and organizations — found extensive problems in American Government textbooks, U.S. and World History textbooks, Religion in World History textbooks, and Religion in World Geography textbooks. The state board will vote on which books to approve in November.
Ideas promoted in various proposed textbooks include the notion that Moses and Solomon inspired American democracy, that in the era of segregation only “sometimes” were schools for black children “lower in quality” and that Jews view Jesus Christ as an important prophet.
Here are the broad findings of 10 scholars, who wrote four separate reports, taken from an executive summary, followed by the names of the scholars and a list of publishers who submitted textbooks.
- A number of government and world history textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influence on the nation’s founding and Western political tradition.
- Two government textbooks include misleading information that undermines the Constitutional concept of the separation of church and state.
- Several world history and world geography textbooks include biased statements that inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims negatively.
- All of the world geography textbooks inaccurately downplay the role that conquest played in the spread of Christianity.
- Several world geography and history textbooks suffer from an incomplete – and often inaccurate – account of religions other than Christianity.
- Coverage of key Christian concepts and historical events are lacking in a few textbooks, often due to the assumption that all students are Christians and already familiar with Christian events and doctrine.
- A few government and U.S. history textbooks suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system, both by ignoring legitimate problems that exist in capitalism and failing to include coverage of government’s role in the U.S. economic system.
- One government textbook flirts with contemporary Tea Party ideology, particularly regarding the inclusion of anti-taxation and anti-regulation arguments.
- One world history textbook includes outdated – and possibly offensive – anthropological categories and racial terminology in describing African civilization.
- A number of U.S. history textbooks evidence a general lack of attention to Native American peoples and culture and occasionally include biased or misleading information.
- One government textbook … includes a biased – verging on offensive – treatment of affirmative action.
- Most U.S. history textbooks do a poor job of covering the history of LGBT citizens in discussions of efforts to achieve civil rights in this country.
- Elements of the Texas curriculum standards give undue legitimacy to neo-Confederate arguments about “states’ rights” and the legacy of slavery in the South. While most publishers avoid problems with these issues, passages in a few U.S. history and government textbooks give a nod to these misleading arguments.