Scholars: History Textbooks Skew American History

Ideological Historical Narratives Fail America’s Students

National Association of Scholars

NEW YORK, NY, April 27, 2021 – The National Association of Scholars has launched a new report, Skewed History: Textbook Coverage of Early America and the New Deal. The report reviews and critiques five popular textbooks’ coverage of four historical periods: The European Settlement of North America, Colonial America, The Nation’s Founding, and The New Deal. Skewed History’s authors explain that the textbooks are marred by superficial coverage, distracting graphics, and politicized distortions of America’s history.

Skewed History, with analysis from its six authors—David Randall, Bruce Frohnen, Kevin Gutzman, Jason Ross, Amity Shlaes, and William Pettinger—seeks to make recommendations about the current instruction of the four historical periods examined.

“America needs better American history textbooks,” explains NAS Director of Research David Randall. “America’s children are growing up to know little about the story of their nation’s failures and successes. At a time when America is wrestling with its past on so many fronts, it is imperative that students learn a history that is fair-minded, fact-based, and not subject to ideological bias. History textbooks, from which many children are taught, should be well-written to make students interested in American history. We can and must do better.”

The NAS has taken aim at history instruction in the past, focusing primarily on the College Board’s three Advanced Placement history courses and tests.

Skewed History’s authors found a number of redeemable qualities within these textbooks, but primarily found points to critique. These include:

  • Format: Students are left without a coherent historical narrative as textbook layout and graphics break the flow of text, distracting any reader.
  • Progressive skew: The textbooks, particularly the advanced ones, suffer from a general skew in favor of both progressive politics and progressive interpretation of history.
  • Religion: The textbooks minimize or erase religion (especially Protestantism) from American history, and where they do mention it, they frequently fail to provide a proper explanation.
  • Political Theory: The textbooks tend to narrow political theory to a cramped left-Enlightenment mold in eighteenth century America and an equally cramped left-liberal mold in 1930s America.
  • Economics: The textbooks tend to articulate liberal economic presumptions, most notably with the New Deal’s narrative, but also with regards to colonial America.
  • Character Instruction: The textbooks no longer seek to provide character instruction in educating our children to become virtuous citizens who will cherish and fight for liberty. This absence is most apparent in their treatment of the American Revolution. While some textbooks provide a vestigial recitation of some of the facts that used to be provided for that purpose, they rarely recollect the reason such facts were taught in the first place.

Randall added: “Skewed History’s independent scholarly critiques confirm that America needs more engaging history curricula and textbooks, such as those separately provided by NAS’s project partner AAT Education. Better history education in K-12 schools will aid students as they grow to be fully informed American citizens, capable of building America’s future upon its illustrious, though imperfect, past.”

Skewed History and our History Instructional Materials and Support project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

NAS is a network of scholars and citizens united by a commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. Membership in NAS is open to all who share a commitment to these broad principles. NAS publishes a journal and has state and regional affiliates. Visit NAS at www.nas.org.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in Skewed History or in this launch event do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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If you would like more information about this issue, please contact Chance Layton at [email protected]


Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

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