The Texas Textbook controversy has recently received a lot of attention, but it is only the most recent chapter in a long struggle over what our children should be learning. It is this history that Christopher Babits examines in order to add perspective to the current polemics. Babits found that debates over the content of textbooks goes back at least 130 years, but one episode in particular stood out as the most instructive in the current textbook wars. This episode began in the late 1920s.
The Great Depression brought great social change and a willingness to critically examine the causes of the crisis, even if it wasn’t pretty. Therefore, according to Babits, “many Americans embraced what came to be called the social reconstructionist curriculum. Observing the consequences of capitalism run amok, Americans became more comfortable with curricula that not only critiqued economic inequality but also encouraged students to ask critical questions about the American past.” In the schools the “[s]ocial reconstructionist curricula focused on the economic challenges facing the United States and the ways that schools could improve society.” This curricula came under attack from conservatives in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that this approach was replaced with a patriotic focused curriculum in response the rise of fascism and World War II.
Read the entire history of the textbooks wars here: