Social studies textbooks used in elementary and secondary schools are mostly a disgrace that, in the name of political correctness and multiculturalism, fail to give students an honest account of American history, say academic historians and education advocates.
“Secondary and college students, and indeed most of the rest of us, have only a feeble grasp of politics and a vague awareness of history, especially the political history of the United States and the world,” says Paul Gagnon, emeritus professor of history at the University of Massachusetts.
Most textbooks, produced by a handful of giant commercial publishers, are exposing generations of children to cultural and history amnesia that threatens the very basis of American free institutions and liberties, warn leading historians who are calling for better-defined, more rigorous state teaching standards.
Just 11 percent of eighth-graders show proficient knowledge of U.S. history on standardized tests — down from 17 percent in 2001, Mr. Gagnon noted in a recent study for the American Federation of Teachers.
“Less than half knew the Supreme Court could decide a law’s constitutionality,” he said in the Albert Shanker Institute study titled “Educating Democracy: State Standards to Ensure a Civic Core.”
“Only a third knew what the Progressive Era was and most were not sure whom we fought in World War II.”
Publishers acknowledge having buckled since the early 1980s to so-called multicultural “bias guidelines” demanded by interest groups and elected state boards of education that require censorship of textbook content to accommodate feminist, homosexual and racial demands.
The California State Board of Education was the first to adopt such guidelines in 1982, according to New York University education research professor Diane Ravitch in her latest book, “The Language Police.”
The California guidelines instruct textbook publishers and teachers: “Do not cast adverse reflection on any gender, race, ethnicity, religion or cultural group.” The board had informal “social-content standards” going back to the 1970s.
Publishers followed with their own editorial anti-bias guidelines, which banned words, phrases, images, and depictions of people deemed unacceptable — such as “man,” “mankind,” “manpower,” “men,” said to be sexist. Also banned are “able-bodied,” “aged,” “babe,” “backward,” “chick,” “fairy,” “geezer,” “idiot,” “imbecile,” “Redskin,” “sissy,” “suffragette” and “waitress.”
A handful of commercial publishers produce most elementary and secondary school textbooks used in the United States, which cost the nation’s taxpayers about $250 million per subject.
They are Glencoe, a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill; Holt, Rinehart & Winston, owned by Harcourt, Inc., U.S. division of the Dutch publishing conglomerate Reed Elsevier Group; McDougal Littell, owned by Houghton Mifflin; and Prentice Hall, a subsidiary of British-owned Pearson Education Inc., which also owns Scott Foresman, Addison Wesley, Silver Burdett, Ginn, and other school-textbook imprints.