Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Social studies textbooks are edited to reflect states' political leanings; how does your local version compare?

Students in different states sometimes see different versions of the same textbooks, and the differences are often influenced by the beliefs of political leaders in large states.

In an analysis of recently published eighth- and 11th-grade social studies textbooks widely used in the megastates of California and Texas, The New York Times found hundreds of differences that ranged from subtle to extensive, Diana Goldstein reports for the Times.

For example, an annotated Bill of Rights is given different treatments in two versions of the same textbook. The California version notes that rulings on the Second Amendment have allowed for some gun regulations, but the same space in the Texas edition contains only a blank space, Goldstein notes. Another textbook discusses the Harlem Renaissance, but the Texas version adds that some critics "dismissed the quality of literature produced."

In general, conservative versions of textbooks tend to celebrate patriotism, the influence of Christianity and the Founding Fathers. More liberal versions seek to help students focus on the experiences of marginalized groups such as women, African Americans and Native Americans, Goldstein reports.

"The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts," Goldstein reports. Publishers are eager to please big states since textbook publishers are rapidly losing ground to digital sources, and can only publish a few different versions of a book.

Because California and Texas are the nation's most populous states, the textbook edits could affect the country's political future. "Classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters," Goldstein reports.

All of this prompts the question: What do your local textbooks look like, and how might state political leanings have influenced their contents?

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