Love the History Textbook Story? Some Resources for Further Reading

It is a great day in the offices of ILYBYGTH International when a study of US History textbooks makes the front page of the New York Times. Dana Goldstein’s comparison of textbooks from Texas and California has been a big hit. My fellow nerds and I have been swapping books and sources we’ve used to teach this kind of thing. I thought I’d collate them here to make it simple.

NYT TExtbooks CA TX

What students see in CA is not what they see in TX.

Outside of academic sources, anyone who wants a quick intro to Texas textbook policies could start with Trey Kay’s podcast about the Gablers. They were a powerful couple who pushed Texas textbooks in more conservative directions, with impressive results.

If you’re more of a watcher than a listener, check out The Revisionaries. This great documentary tells the story of Texas’s school board in 2010.

If you’re in the mood for an academic look at these issues, here is a short list of a few great books in no particular order.zimmerman robertson case for contention

#1: Jonathan Zimmerman and Emily Robertson, The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools.  From the publisher:

From the fights about the teaching of evolution to the details of sex education, it may seem like American schools are hotbeds of controversy. But as Jonathan Zimmerman and Emily Robertson show in this insightful book, it is precisely because such topics are so inflammatory outside school walls that they are so commonly avoided within them. And this, they argue, is a tremendous disservice to our students.

#2: Ronald W. Evans, Social Studies Wars: What Should We Teach the Children? From the publisher:

The history of social studies is a story of dramatic turf wars among competing political camps. In this volume, Ronald Evans describes and interprets this history and the continuing battles over the purposes, content, methods, and theoretical foundations of the social studies curriculum.

binder contentious#3: Amy Binder, Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools. From the publisher:

Both [Afrocentrism and creationism] made similar arguments about oppression and their children’s well-being, both faced skepticism from educators about their factual claims, and both mounted their challenges through bureaucratic channels. In each case, challenged school systems were ultimately able to minimize or reject challengers’ demands, but the process varied by case and type of challenge.

#4: John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? John Fea has long been one of the most astute and penetrating scholars studying the history culture wars. In this book he examines the claim that America’s history proves that it was meant to be a specifically Christian nation. If you don’t have time for his whole book, you can get a taste at his blog.

#5: Adam Shapiro, Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools. Okay, it’s not about US History, but Shapiro’s analysis of the process by which textbooks authors, editors, and publishers come up with a final product is an absolute must-read.

#6: Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture. Also beyond a narrow focus on history textbooks, Prof. Petrzela looks at the culture-war history of California schools in the twentieth century.

Trying Biology

#7: Sorry to include a book of my own, but The Other School Reformers looks hard at the politics of history textbooks. Conservative reformers spent a lot of time examining textbooks. They complained about progressive-sounding ones and successfully had them removed. They had less luck when they tried to publish textbooks of their own, as I recounted recently in these pages.

What else? This list is just a start. What other books and resources would you recommend for people interested in the culture-war politics of history textbooks?

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