Texas’ Textbook Wars, Lindaman and Ward’s History Lessons

Texas' textbook battles are given context by this book.

In addition to being the Lone Star State, Texas is now the battleground for a heated war about the content of their students’ Social Studies textbooks.

Despite being a source of ennui and groans for students the world over, textbooks in general, and history ones in particular, are inevitably imbued with values and endorsements of particular ideologies.

Unsurprisingly, the proposed Texas vision is a conservative one.

The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this week about the majority-conservative Board of Education’s proposal for a textbook that would include, among other components, learning about Phyllis Schlafly, de-emphasize Thomas Jefferson’s arguments for the necessity to separate church and state, and change ‘slavery’ to the ‘Atlantic Triangular Trade.’

In short, the changes are more than cosmetic and the issue’s impact extends beyond Texas’ border.  Texas is important both as one of the nation’s largest states and as one in which, like in many European nations, the same book is used throughout the land.  As a result, landing a contract for Texas can be a boon for business and a statement about who we are as a nation and from where we have come.

This is the most recent, but far from the only, example of textbooks, which purportedly are there to give an official, if not neutral, description of what has happened in a country’s past.

I wrote last year about dear friend Craig Segal’s giving me a copy of Lindaman and Ward’s History Lessons.

The Texas curricular brouhaha again brought the book to mind, and, if you have time, I recommend that you give it a read.

History Lessons’ structure is relatively straightforward.  The authors go through many events in American and world history, showing how countries outside of the United States depict events that receive differing amounts of attention and ideological spin in other nations.

I remember vividly living in eighth grade in Oxford, England, for example, where I was told by Mr. Noll, our eccentric History teacher, that the American Revolution was a relatively unimportant and almost inevitable event in England’s colonial enterprises.  Our final that year, in fact, was about the causes of the Revolution, and somehow my discussion of the colonists’ agitation did not meet a particularly receptive audience.

History Lessons has similar such examples.  The book contains introductory text and excerpts primarily from British, Caribbean, and Canadian textbooks.  Works from countries like the Philippines, North Korea, Russia, Italy and Nigeria make the occasional appearance as well.

It’s safe to say that the view of American history emanating from Canada is far different than the one being contested in Texas.  We await the outcome of that struggle with interest and read Lindaman and Ward’s useful book in the meantime.

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