Following a knock-down, drag-out fight in Texas over school textbooks, it is appropriate to ask: Do Jacksonville parents pay as much attention to what their students are taught as parents in Texas (who won a victory)?
History is a vital subject. It shapes the child’s world view and thus his view about contemporary politics. As such, it is an area that is tempting to those who want the public schools to indoctrinate rather than educate.
In Jacksonville schools, the primary textbook for 11th grade American history is The Americans, published by McDougall Littell.
This textbook was one of several examined in A Consumers Guide to High School History Textbooks by Diane Ravitch — called the “best qualified person in America” by the Fordham Foundation — and a panel of experts.
The textbook used to teach Jacksonville children the history of their country got an F grade. It was rated fifth out of six history textbooks.
One reviewer said it had “the literary and historical spontaneity of a Noh play, and prose distinguished by a committee-fabricated blandness.” Another reviewer said it has “a strong commitment to the theme of diversity…and an ongoing effort to beguile its student consumers with a CNN Headline News-like pastiche of pictures, boxes, charts, extracts: anything to spare them the pain and suffering of being subjected to an extensive, substantive body of writing.”
Although reviewers said the book has some merit, there were a number of other criticisms. For example, “Its treatment of the civil rights movement and the Great Society programs is comprehensive but tends to be uncritically admiring.”
It was said to be “not dramatically skewed toward any particular ideology, but it shares the ‘soft,’ multicultural biases that show up in most of the others.”
In a discussion of the nation’s origins, 10 pages are devoted to Indian cultures, six pages to the slaves’ West African backgrounds, but only five pages to the European background of white settlers.
Even in discussing people of the same ethnic background, there is favoritism toward the left. W.E.B. Du Bois, a Communist who considered Joe Stalin a great man, is given more attention than Booker T. Washington, a judgment that “may suit current sensibilities, but distorts history,” a reviewer said.
The book reviewed was the 2003 edition. Jacksonville schools use the 2005 edition, which may have changes. In addition, school administration officials said the book is supplemented by other resources.
Homeschoolers may choose their own textbooks, but parents who send their children to the public schools may be well advised to monitor what the children are learning and discuss with them subject areas that might be skewed by the ideological bent of textbook authors and inattention to screening by school administrators.
Examiner noted one subtle example that may illustrate what a Fordham reviewer called “leaning to the left.” Under “The role of the first lady” were listed some first ladies to consider. Four were mentioned from the period after World War II. All were spouses of liberal Democrats. Unmentioned were Nancy Reagan, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Barbara Bush or Laura Bush, spouses of Republican presidents.
In the Teachers Edition is the admonition: “Be sure to include Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton among those studied.”
On the other hand, in long and generally glowing coverage of the New Deal, there is a brief point-counterpoint given and students are urged to analyze the disagreement. However, the text lacks information that could help students make a valid comparison. For example, it is not explained that money spent by the government came from the private sector and borrowing, or that New Deal policies, such as mandatory high wages and prices, may have hurt consumers and kept unemployment high, as many scholars contend.