Battles over textbooks

I’m putting this in IMHO because I’m not sure if it’s a matter of opinion or if it can be responded to factually, in which case this thread could probably go to GQ’s

Here in the US there’s an ongoing effort (typically by the right) to attempt to control young hearts and minds by controlling the textbooks used in classrooms through efforts of state and local school boards. These battles tend to focus on science and social studies texts. Often they involve things like eliminating references to the genocide of Native Americans, or making it sound like the Civil War was primarily about ‘states rights’, or glossing over historic people and events associated with the civil rights movement, or requiring science classes to use texts that give notions like ‘intelligent design’ equal credence as the theory of evolution.

My question is, do other democratic countries see these sorts of battles over public school textbooks being waged, or is this a uniquely American phenomenon?

Famously Japanese textbooks are constantly downplaying the Japanese atrocities in World War 2 and reasons for their own involvement. British textbooks have gotten flack for ignoring the atrocities that happened in their own colonies as well. Canadian textbooks claim that they burned down the White House.

I do believe that there is a battle in Japan between the government education office (Monbusho) and the teacher’s union. The government tries to whitewash history and the teacher’s union tries to restore the truth (granted, I don’t think most teachers actually bother, except the ones at the top of the union). Apparently, some in the high level of the teacher’s union have been firebombed by nationalists.

Mm, nationalism.

I would think most countries would be tempted to whitewash their history to some extent, presenting the best motives possible and minimizing the negative.

But how, for instance, do German textbooks explain the National Socialist Party’s rise to power between the wars, and how the majority of citizens cooperated with their goals and objectives? Is there any mention - over 70 years later - of concentration camps in, say, high school textbooks?

So far as mainstream (ie state) schools go, I really don’t think this is a significant problem in the UK. I’d be interested to hear what other residents think.

Where we do have a problem (and I’m sure it’s not just in the UK) is outside the state system, and particularly in the area of faith schools. But that’s off topic, I think.

Also off topic is the fact that much of this country lives in its own little fantasy world where we still rule the waves etc etc etc. So maybe we just don’t need dodgy textbooks.


Well we have stupid battles over what children should be learning, for sure. There was just an uproar over the new guidelines for what kids should learn in 13 years of schooling not including the holocaust. Of course the current guidelines don’t specify the holocaust either. They are top level, broad strokes bullet points like “Learn about important historical events in the first half of the 20th century” and there is no chance, at least at the moment, the holocaust won’t be part of that.

This really is a little hobby horse of yours isn’t it? Neither of my 2 boys (Grades 12 & 10) have had a textbook that claims Canada burned down the White House. Would you be good enough to provide a me a current example? Maybe it’s a thing outside of Ontario but I would have though the Loyalist influence in Ontario would work against that.

Its not the right. Nor the left either. Its everyone.

You can find nearly any group in the US wants history taught from THEIR point of view. So thats why if you look at a textbook or reading book from say the 1950’s, there are few if any woman or minorities in them. But now you have gays, transgenders, and everyone else also who want their history in books.

Then atheists have done their best to delete any positive mentions of religion from textbooks also.

Both political parties want their heroes highlighted while the other parties downplayed.

Oh and add onto that corporations want certain things put in.

Yes, textbooks are a battle.

“There is nothing to look at because everybody does it.” In real life, this is almost never true.
For instance:

I find it rather incredible that atheists have ever had enough power to change what is in textbooks. Could you point out any examples of this happening?

This sort of thing is precisely what James Loewen’s book Lies my Teacher Told Me is about. It was a central issue with Loewen, since he was personally involved in school textbook fights. Loewen’s book is by no means the only one on this topic – I just picked up another book on it this weekend at a used book store.

The fights are unlikely to involve religion (thank God!), but in Spain we do have something like… 10K different textbooks for a student population which doesn’t reach 10M (the first number may be higher and the second one lower, I don’t wanna try to look it up but it’s absurd). 4 official languages, plus foreign languages, plus a system where the national curriculum is handed down to each of the 17 regions (which of course must then make their own little tweaks, because since you can you hafta) make for a lot of textbooks which may differ in as little as the order in which the different kings that took part in the battle of Las Navas are listed.

Oh, aof course the curriculums and the editions must get little tweaks every year so students can’t use last year’s book any more. This was already an issue when I was in school: I got new books, handed them down to our friend Luis, who handed them down to his sister, who handed them down… and eventually my Lilbro got them back and was the last one to use them. A few times the changes had been big enough that the younger kids in the list needed to get a few photocopies, but often it was just a matter of rearranging things: what had been exercises 12.1, 12.2 and 12.3 in one year got shuffled to 12.2, 12.5 and 12.7 a few years later, then later on to 12.3, 12.1 and 12.6. Most schools aren’t terribly stupid about this, but every year there’s somebody who’s got problems with that somewhere.

Have some example of transgender people crammed into history books? And do you think it is a bad idea that 50% of the students can now get to see that people like them contributed to history, besides Betsy Ross that is?

I also would like to see an example of this. My kids California textbooks had an extensive section describing world religions and what they stand for, all very positive. Yet there was nothing I’d object to as an atheist. Perhaps you object to the lack of an assumption that Christianity is right?

Gee, states rules by Democrats didn’t say anything nasty about Lincoln. In the north, at least. Today I’d bet Republican dominated states say bad things about him. I haven’t heard “Party of Lincoln” in Republican conventions much lately, have you?

Mostly because politicians want to overrule trained educators.

Those arguments of school textbooks are an American thing.

As far as I understand it (not being American) it is a side effect of the Constitution. Particularly the bit that guarantees freedom of Religion by keeping religious expression out of state financed institutions. When the Constitution was written freedom from religious persecution experienced by many migrants from a Europe riven by religious wars was pretty high up on the todo list.

However, the religiosity is still a significant feature of the the culture of the US and it is sometimes politicised. The US has a Religious Right aligned to deeply Conservative values. Christianity is a proselytising religion and some groups would like to use state institutions to promote their interpretation of religious truth.

Hence the arguments about abortion, teaching creationism in state schools and religious symbols in public buildings.

Other countries sometimes have disputes like this, but the US, being such a large county, the cracks are a bit more obvious. Many European countries have had a long time to evolve constitutional solutions to the State v Religion issue.

The UK actually still has a few members of the upper house of Lords that are nominated by the state Religion, the Church of England. One day they will get around to dealing with these constitutional anachronisms but they are not a priority because religion and the monarchy no longer figure in arguments over who runs the country.

That is not the case in the US, where there a constant debate between political factions who exercise their power by associating with a point of view on a religious or cultural issue like school books or abortion or gun ownership. These are very American concerns that are really not an issue in other countries.

Other countries get themselves into a state arguing about quite different stuff that can be quite puzzling. I am pretty sure there is a lot scratching of heads over why the UK is so uptight over this Brexit nonsense. :confused:

Textbook backlashes began in the early 1970s, largely as a result of academia moving away from traditional educational models. As mentioned by Voyager, their child’s textbook has positive comments about all world religions. That didn’t get in there at the behest of Christian scholars. It was advanced by people advocating more pluralistic approaches toward religion. There was a strong rise in promoting moral relativism and teaching history from a minority point of view. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is dependent upon your point of view, but rest assured that there were people actively advocating for it to be this way. The most famous of these early fights was the Kanawha County textbook controversy(which in typical fashion for my state actually ended up with one person shot, a school dynamited and another bombed- Mountaineers are a friendly people, but we don’t go for half-measures.) It was one of the early examples of the growing rural-urban culture divides, with urban mainline people and churches largely in Charleston supporting the more progressive textbooks and rural, evangelicals from mining and farming communities outside the city supporting the traditional ones.

Textbook in classrooms? For the last two decades in Georgia, there has been a definite stigma attached to any teacher using one in class. It started when someone somewhere decided to do a lesson with “outside materials” and it was seen as successful. This evolved into the attitude that “real, effective” teachers rarely have to resort to textbooks to teach a class. Now, everyone just gets a Chromebook and no textbooks at all.

Make of this what you will.

Is this an example of “if it’s on the Internet, it must be true?”
Does Georgia have standards? Do all teachers teach to them?

My wife wrote a big chunk of a high school biology textbook. She found it very frustrating. There was a list of terms and topics which had to be covered to meet the various state requirements, and there were stringent space requirements to reduce the cost. She wanted to segue between topics and introduce interesting examples, but seldom had the room to do so. And of course there had to be space left for all the pictures and cut-outs so the kids won’t get bored just reading.

Do you have an idea of what was meant by moral relativism? They way I learned back in the early '60s with what we did to Native Americans swept under the rug seemed a lot more like moral relativism than current teaching.
In my current school district Christians, if not a minority, are close to one, so describing multiple religions is not a particularly odd concept. Hell, where I went to school if you followed the makeup of my classes, Christianity would be a small offshoot which might never amount to anything. :slight_smile: (We were heavily Jewish.)
I didn’t see a lot of moral relativism in my kids history books - much more an honest look at what went on in the past.

I’m sorry, but that feels (to me at least) like a very bizarre question. Are concentration camps mentioned in German high school textbooks? The time between 1933 and 1945 is a major focus not only in history class, but also in other related subjects (German language, arts, pretty much anywhere it’s relevant). As much as we have our problems with right wing populism at the moment (sadly, we‘re not alone in this), I believe German schools and society in general are pretty good about keeping that period in our country‘s history alive in people’s heads and minds, reminding us how we got there and where it led us. That this culture is being questioned by some parties right now makes me very uneasy, but that’s another topic.

To more directly answer your question: if a history textbook dealing with the 20th century were to be published that didn’t address concentration camps or other Nazi atrocities, there would be such a major shitstorm from all but the most far-right-leaning parties that the publisher in question would never sell another book to a German school.

When I was taking U S History in high school, one of my classmates was from Germany and when we got to WWII she was asked how German schools covered the subject. She replied it was mentioned but there was not much depth beyond, “There was a war; we started it; we lost.”

This was fifty years ago so it may be different now.