Truth Must be Told in Textbooks

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McGraw-Hill published a misleading history textbook. (PHOTO BY JESSICA LUSZCZYK/THE OBSERVER)

By ELIZABETH ATHY

McGraw-Hill published a misleading history textbook. (PHOTO BY JESSICA LUSZCZYK/THE OBSERVER)
McGraw-Hill published a misleading history textbook. (PHOTO BY JESSICA LUSZCZYK/THE OBSERVER)

In today’s world, we must carefully consider the sources we obtain our facts from, whether they are newspapers, televisions or articles on the Internet. However, the one place where we do not have to worry about a skewed perspective is in textbooks, which are meant for an academic setting. Right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, recent news concerning the slanting of views in grade school history textbooks in Texas has left the academic community searching for ways to ensure improvement in teaching techniques, so that students are getting the correct facts regarding certain eras in history. This has been an issue with discussions surrounding the trans-Atlantic slave trade, unsurprisingly.

In Texas, there has been a downplaying of the experiences and status of slaves in textbooks, using the euphemism “migrant worker” instead, as if to ease 10the horrific nature of the slave trade. Thanks to a black American student pointing out the egregious error to his mother, and her complaints on social media, McGraw-Hill, the textbook company, has since retracted the textbook and promises to edit both the physical and digital copies to ensure that the facts regarding slavery are indeed correct. While this is clearly an attempt to pacify the public, hopefully the company never makes this type of mistake again.

The New York Times article “How Texas Teaches History” discusses how besides actual facts being incorrect, misleading linguistic choices can also lead to a misunderstanding of the facts from students. From my experience, this is true. When learning about the Native Americans in eighth grade, a sentence in our history textbook was phrased as such that it seemed as if the Native Americans were the ones solely responsible for the extinction of the buffalo. The teacher, an expert on Native Americans, promptly told us that this was untrue. So, we were set straight.

Mistakes like the one mentioned above are easily fixed and are often not refuted. Grammatical errors and facts, such as dates and places, are easy to collaborate on and are not hard to fix if an error is made. However, sometimes it’s not that simple, especially when it comes to narrative events, something there is a lot of in history.

As students move into higher education, the material becomes less about facts and more about analysis. Now, that doesn’t mean the facts are not there, but the author’s opinion is clearer than it would be in a grade school textbook. This causes the text to be closely examined for accuracy by students, along with further research that might need to be done.

When it comes to subjects in history such as conflicts and wars, there are going to be different stories from all of the parties involved. They may agree on certain facts, but their viewpoints are going to be different and thus have a higher chance of being inaccurate. Issues such as these are not meant to be corrected, even if they are inaccurate. They are meant to provide an alternative view of events, rather than just presenting cold hard facts. However, at this point, students should be good judges at deciding what is the correct view. The average grade school student does not have this ability.

If textbooks are used to manipulate history in order to downplay certain atrocities or skew viewpoints, the one thing that should be done is teachers should teach beyond the textbook. While it’s easy to just read the chapters, it would be more beneficial for teachers to seek other—potentially more accurate—resources in order for students to gain full knowledge of the facts. This way, there are no misunderstandings or misconceptions of important events, such as the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The other thing that could be done to improve history education is to hire teachers who are actually history majors, or are at least thoroughly knowledgeable in a certain area of the subject. According to the article “History Class and the Fictions About Race in America” from the Atlantic, most teachers employed in grade schools are either not history majors or are not interested in American history, which can cause the class to be very skimpy on information, not to mention boring for the students. If teachers were interested in the subject, then perhaps there would be more attention to detail rather than just regurgitating the same facts over and over again without any attention to what is being said and taught.

The skewing of history, while inexcusable, is unfortunately common and will continue to happen. It is up to the academic world, and its students, to make sure the right information is getting across, particularly to the impressionable young minds in grade schools. It is the responsibility of the teachers, and quite possibly the government, to make sure American history is told as accurately as it can be and help the next generation understand its nation better.