NAS Publishes New Report Analyzing American History Textbooks

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 4/25

Throughout our history, and especially in recent years, the National Association of Scholars has set about assessing the quality of K-12 curricula, exams, and instructional materials. You may be wondering, “Why would an organization focused on higher education do this?” The short answer is quite simple: because yesterday’s high school students are today’s college students, and today’s college students are tomorrow’s professors. And with the growing influx of ideological propaganda in the place of K-12 education, we see a greater need to engage with the materials from which our children learn, as they are of great import in shaping the future of academia.

NAS’s past K-12 work has included: an extensive critique of the Common Core State Standards; an analysis of the Next Generation Science Standards; an investigation into the ties between the College Board and the Chinese Communist party; and a deep dive into the Advanced Placement U.S., European, and World History courses and examinations.

We are not alone in our research and critique of these various curricula and courses, but often overlooked and under-researched in this work is a thorough analysis of the textbooks used in K-12 classes. The textbooks schools choose directly inform how and what instructors teach, and therefore what students learn. And while textbook analysis may sound like a dry, tedious exercise, it is necessary work nonetheless, and is engaging if done well.

To that end, the NAS is proud to announce our latest research report, Skewed History: Textbook Coverage of Early America and the New Deal. The report was co-written by six authors—David Randall, Bruce Frohnen, Kevin Gutzman, Jason Ross, Amity Shlaes, and William Pettinger—who together analyze five textbooks’ coverage of four historical periods: The European Settlement of North America, Colonial America, The Nation’s Founding, and The New Deal. Three of the textbooks examined are used in standard American history courses, while the other two are specifically designed for advanced placement courses.

While the authors do find some good qualities within the textbooks, their conclusions are overwhelmingly negative, and they find that the textbooks suffer from a number of crippling flaws throughout. These include a general skew in favor of both progressive politics and progressive interpretation of history; a minimization of the role of religion, especially Protestantism, in American history; a question-begging use of liberal economic presuppositions without explanation; and a general lack of the character instruction that used to educate our children to become virtuous citizens who will cherish and fight for liberty. As report contributor David Randall concludes,

The basic textbooks require more in the way of narrative thrust—and more individuality, to prevent them from decaying into identical checklists. The advanced textbooks need particularly to guard against politicization—they have more rope with which to hang themselves, and unfortunately they have indeed chosen to do so.

These textbooks are at best acceptable—and when they are, they can be made much better. America should expect more of its history textbooks.

There are better history textbooks out there, if only schools would use them. One recent example is Wilfred M. McClay’s celebrated work, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story. This book and others provide sound historical facts and analysis while instilling a proper sense of gratitude and civic responsibility in our students. We encourage schools and school districts to rethink their history textbook choices, both for the sake of our children and for the future of the country as a whole.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: freestocks, Public Domain

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