Take Prentice Hall’s “World History: Connections to Today.” Though one of the most popular high-school texts in America, this book received low marks from both studies. One Fordham reviewer criticized the book for its attempts to “redress prior imbalances in civilizational coverage by at times inflating or elevating one culture or civilization’s achievements at the expense of European or Western accomplishments.” For example, Columbus’s voyage to the New World is attributed not to European advances but to contributions from “Muslim astronomers and navigators.”
The problem is not just incipient political correctness and questions of balance. As the ATC review notes, these texts also elevate lush photos and handsome graphics over a coherent story line. And the “exercises” that students are asked to do can be more deadening than the words they are asked to read. Is any 10th-grader really equipped to answer the larger questions — whether war is ever justified, whether diversity strengthens or weakens a society, what limits there should be on freedom of speech — based on the barest exposure to the past?
“Such instructional exercises,” the ATC asserts, “do not — as they claim to do — promote genuine critical thinking. They discourage deep reading on the subject and invite facile discussion. They promote classroom sloganeering. They favor the glib student and the showboat teacher.”
Critical thinking has to be about something, which means it’s essential to know something. Knowing a lot of things is even better.