Some have downplayed the distortions of the Texas textbooks by claiming that good teachers will compensate for the shortcomings of the books. But what if those good teachers are few and far in between? Alia Wong addresses this problem in a thoughtful piece at The Atlantic.
“Perhaps many of these controversies trace back to the history-class dilemma—the reality that its instruction often suffers because of under-qualified or under-engaged teachers who, in turn, rely on textbooks that at best oversimplify and at worst flat out lie. ‘Most history teachers don’t do history, and don’t know how to do history,’ Loewen said. ‘And by that, I mean they were never asked to actually research something. They just took courses with textbooks and that was it.’”
This is a serious problem and we need to rethink how we train our social science teachers. Many of them don’t have the knowledge or the skills to teach history in a way that is both meaningful and beneficial to students.
Another obstacle to the effective teaching of history, not mentioned in the article, but is as equally important is the fact that too many good teachers are forced to focus on content over critical thinking in order to prepare their students for standardized tests. The focus on testing has done a great deal of harm to our education system, and even though many are beginning to realize the folly of this testing craze the so-called “reformers” of education continue to push them.
Please read the important essay here: Lessons From McGraw Hill: The Eurocentric Influence on History Textbooks and Classrooms – The Atlantic
Ellen Bresler Rockmore claims that it is not just the content in Texas textbooks that distort the history of slavery. Grammar, she argues, is also used in ways that downplay and distort the reality of slavery. “Grammar matters, especially when textbooks tackle the subject of slavery.”
Read the entire article here: How Texas Teaches History – The New York Times
“Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by ‘sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery’ — written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.” This is what happens when politically motivated Schools Boards determine what children will learn. You may recall the kerfuffle over the Texas state curriculum standards in 2010 and the textbooks in 2014 that led to this version of the Civil War appearing in Texas social studies textbooks. (see previous posts on this subject here and here)
The belief that the Civil War was about states’ rights not slavery might be comforting to some, but that feeling comes at the cost of truth, justice, progress, and everything we hold dear as a nation. How can students understand the present if they have been mislead about the past?
Texas officials: Schools should teach that slavery was ‘side issue’ to Civil War – The Washington Post.
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:
History News Network | The Texas Textbook Controversy. It’s Part of a Long, Awful, Tradition.