Scholar Reviews Highlight Problems in Proposed Texas Social Studies Textbooks

by TFN Insider

Exaggerations, Distortions Reflect Flaws in Controversial Curriculum Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 10, 2014

Social studies textbooks under state consideration for public schools this year include serious distortions of history and contemporary issues on topics ranging from religion and democracy to the free enterprise system and affirmative action, according to scholars who reviewed the new instructional materials for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

Many of those problems are linked to heavily politicized and controversial curriculum standards adopted by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in 2010, TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller said.

“In all fairness, it’s clear that the publishers struggled with these flawed standards and still managed to do a good job in some areas, Miller said. “On the other hand, a number of textbook passages essentially reflect the ideological beliefs of politicians on the state board rather than sound scholarship and factual history.”

The TFN Education Fund asked 10 scholars to review content in textbooks submitted for history, government and geography classes in Grades 6-12: Dr. Edward Countryman, a distinguished professor of history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; Dr. David R. Brockman, an adjunct instructor in religious studies at SMU and at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth; Dr. Emile Lester, an associate professor in political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia; and seven doctoral students in history at the University of Texas at Austin.

Publishers faced a difficult choice either meet politicized requirements set out in the curriculum standards adopted by the SBOE or risk failing to win board approval for their textbooks this fall. The board will vote in November on which textbooks to adopt for Texas public schools.

“The path of least resistance for publishers would be simply to ‘write-to-the-standards,’ the textbook equivalent of ‘teaching-to-the-test,’” said Brockman, who reviewed how world history and geography textbooks covered religion. “That is, the option was to give the SBOE what it seems to want to hear, instead of sticking to what is historically sound. Sadly, some publishers have done the former in certain instances.”

The result is that the textbooks include claims that are unsupported by historical facts and based mostly on the ideological demands made clear in the curriculum standards by SBOE members.

“The SBOE and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars,” said Lester, who reviewed textbooks for high school American Government.

The curriculum standards include a number of claims and requirements that scholars have criticized as unsupported in mainstream scholarship.

“One can only hope that in the next round of drafting curriculum standards, good historical sense rather than ideology will prevail,” said Countryman. “The subject is far too important for ideology to trump all else.”

Countryman, Brockman and Lester together authored four reports about the new textbooks. The reports and an Executive Summary are available at www.tfn.org/history. The scholars identified more than a dozen areas of concern in the textbooks. The Executive Summary lists all of them, including examples from the textbook packages. Many of their concerns involve material designed to meet the flawed curriculum standards, including:

  • Some textbooks greatly exaggerate religious influences on the American founding, with some going so far as to suggest without substantiation that Moses was a major influence, that “the roots of democratic government” can be found in the Old Testament, and that “the biblical idea of a covenant … contributed to our constitutional structure.”
  • While the textbooks largely make clear that slavery was the central cause of the Civil War, some give nods to neo-Confederate arguments first promoted after the war that “states’ rights” was the driving issue. Some also downplay the serious hardships faced by African Americans during segregation.
  • Some textbooks reinforce negative stereotypes of Islam as a violent religion spread exclusively by conquest. One tells students, inaccurately, that “the spread of international terrorism is an outgrowth of Islamic fundamentalism,” ignoring the numerous examples of terrorism not related to Islam at all.
  • Some textbooks suffer from an incomplete and at times inaccurate coverage of religions other than Christianity. For example, one textbook teaches students, inaccurately, that all Hindus are vegetarians. On other hand, coverage of key Christian concepts and historical events are lacking in a few textbooks, often apparently due to the presumption that all students are Christians and already familiar with that information.
  • Reflecting concerns already noted about the curriculum standards by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a number of textbooks present an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system. They downplay or even ignore legitimate problems in capitalism and the role government played in the growth of the American economy of the 1800s.
  • A number of U.S. History textbooks suffer from a general lack of attention to the experiences of Native American peoples and cultures and sometimes include biased or misleading information. One textbook includes a biased even offensive treatment critical of affirmative action, including cartoons that jokingly suggest space aliens would qualify.
  • Most textbooks offer scant coverage of the movement for LGBT equality, one of the salient civil rights struggles of the last half-century. One publisher links the gay rights movement of the late 1960s to society “spinning out of control.”

The TFN Education Fund reports are available at www.tfn.org/history.

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The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund conducts research and citizen education in support of religious freedom, individual liberties and strong public schools.

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