Textbooks are critically important and seriously lousy argues a MSNBC/Newsweek column by Marc Fisher.
American textbooks are both grotesquely bloated (so much so that some state legislatures are considering mandating lighter books to save students from back injuries) and light as a feather intellectually, flitting briefly over too many topics without examining any of them in detail. Worse, too many of them are pedagogically dishonest, so thoroughly massaged to mollify competing political and identity-group interests as to paint a startlingly misleading picture of America and its history.
Writing in the LA Times, Diane Ravitch argues for dropping California’s mandate that every possible group be mentioned favorably.
When it comes to males and females, for instance, the Legislature decreed that “equal portrayal must be applied in every instance.” That means, among other things, that an equal number of male and female characters must be depicted in “roles in which they are mentally and physically active, being creative, solving problems … ” and that male and female characters in textbooks must show a “range of emotions (e.g. fear, anger, tenderness.)”
California’s textbooks and other materials must instill a “sense of pride” in students’ heritages and may not include “adverse reflection” on any group. Cultural or lifestyle differences may not be portrayed as “undesirable.” Members of minority groups must be shown “in the same range of socioeconomic settings” as those in the majority.
Instead of adding gays and lesbians to the good-news-only groups, Ravitch suggests dropping the requirement for everyone.
Telling publishers that their books must instill pride only guarantees a phony version of feel-good history. Publishers, as a result, bend over backward to be positive, whether writing about the genocidal reign of Mao Tse-tung (presumably to avoid offending his admirers) or the unequal treatment of women in Islamic societies (to avoid offending Muslims).
We toured Valley Forge yesterday. I noticed the Welcome Center exhibit had a bit about blacks, Indians, women, Catholics and Jews in the Revolutionary War. But Martha didn’t get equal time with George.