Monday, August 28, 2006

Are U.S. History Textbooks Still Full of Lies and Half-Truths?

The piece below by Ray Raphael appeared on the History News Network website.

Are U.S. History Textbooks Still Full of Lies and Half-Truths?

By Ray Raphael


It’s been a quarter century since Frances Fitzgerald in America Revised critiqued our history texts, and a decade since Jim Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me revealed many of the biases that lingered on. Where are we now? Have we gotten any better?

Textbooks in recent years have certainly become more inclusive, but giving the nod to multiculturalism is not synonymous with getting the story right. We’ve come a long way, baby — but we have a long way to go.

In conjunction with my latest book, Founding Myths: Stories that Hide our Patriotic Past, I have reviewed twenty-two current elementary, middle school, and high school texts. Fourteen were displayed at a recent National Council for the Social Studies convention, while eight are approved for use in California, which has among the strictest criteria in the nation. I compared the mythologies of the American Revolution discussed in my book with those perpetuated in these texts, and the results are startling. Although some texts fare better than others, all are culpable of some serious lapses.

Most texts do mention African American participation in the war, but they focus primarily on those who sided with the Americans. In fact, those who sided with the British were far more numerous, but you’d never guess it from reading the texts. When they offer numbers, they typically compare the estimated number of black patriot soldiers during the course of the entire war (5,000) with the number of slaves who sought freedom with the British in a single week (generally cited as 300).

Likewise, current texts include some mention of the Native American presence in the Revolutionary War, but their narratives display a serious bias. In chapters on the post-war period — right at the moment of the greatest white incursion onto Native lands in United States history— the Indian presence mysteriously disappears. Discussions of white conquest appear earlier and later in these texts, but not at the critical point of our nation’s founding, when it is most relevant but also most embarrassing. The pan-Indian resistance movements of the 1780s — again, the largest coalitions of Native Americans in our history — are entirely neglected. With nary a nod to the impact on indigenous people, the texts celebrate the ordinances of 1785 and 1787 — blueprints for westward expansion and death knells for Indian sovereignty.

To read the rest of the post go to the History News Network website.

1 comment:

Textbook Evaluator said...

I enjoyed this post, as I am equally concerned with the content and structure of textbooks. Thanks for bringing this article to my attention.

Mark Montgomery
EdVantage Consulting