2020年1月18日 星期六

Race/Related: Two Textbooks, Two Americas

Race, gender and immigration are just some of the subjects that play out differently in the books.
Textbook California.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

There’s a desk near mine in the newsroom that looks like it could buckle under the weight of 43 American history textbooks from California and Texas.

That desk belongs to my colleague Dana Goldstein, The Times’s education correspondent. She has been on a quest to read about 4,800 pages of those books to find out what middle school and high school students are learning about our nation’s history in this deeply divided time, and how those lessons differ from state to state.

She published her findings this week: “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories.” Educators, historians, politicians, parents and students from across the country shared their feedback about what she had learned.

I asked Dana to give us her thoughts on some of her most compelling findings.

Your piece focused on textbooks in California and Texas. Why?

Those states are the two largest markets for textbook publishers. These companies create a lot of history writing specifically for these two states, some of which ends up in the books that students read across the country.

And while the two states have a lot in common demographically — lots of diversity and big immigrant populations — their politics are extremely different. Conservatives are dominant in Texas, and the left is dominant in California.

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Let’s get to some examples of the differences. How about slavery and the Civil War?

When I started this project, I expected that on slavery and the Civil War, there might be big differences between the two states. That did not turn out to be the case. Compared with books published in the past, these new editions presented the brutality of slavery more vividly. They traced how debates over slavery caused the Civil War. The big differences emerged around Reconstruction.

That said, the books did not deal frankly with the fact that many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. And they did not state clearly that the existence of slavery — and passionate disagreements over that institution — help shape founding documents like the Constitution.

How about “white flight” from cities into the suburbs?

This was such a stunning example. The story of suburbanization in the 1950s is a very positive one in the Texas textbooks. It’s about the Baby Boom, prosperity and escaping the “crime and congestion” of cities. The California books offer a fuller picture. They state that this suburban dream was not accessible to many African-Americans because of redlining, restrictive deeds and other policies.

Why this difference? California’s social studies guidelines mention housing discrimination several times. In contrast, the word “housing” does not appear in social studies guidelines for Texas.

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Textbook in Texas.Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

And what about immigration and nativism?

Here the most telling example was from a McGraw-Hill 11th-grade book. In the Texas edition, students read an extended, first-person account from a Border Patrol agent, who talks about his concerns regarding drug trafficking and his belief that open borders would cause “social upheaval.”

In the same location in the California edition, there is a long excerpt from the Julia Alvarez novel “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,” which is about a Dominican-American family. The California book is asking students to empathize, through literature, with the experience of being an immigrant.

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What did the publishers say when you approached them about these differences?

The publishers were sometimes reluctant to offer detailed insight into their editorial processes. But after months of prodding and obtaining documents, a clear picture emerged: Most of the differences can be attributed to these companies’ desire to sell more books by appeasing policymakers. They appoint textbook review panels in each state. Since the states are so different politically, it’s no surprise that the finished products contain some big ideological differences.

Are American children learning two different historical narratives?

Textbooks are just one source in most classrooms, though an important one. And on some important subjects, yes — they offer different narratives. Many Texas children will never hear about nonbinary gender identities in Native American tribes, or about redlining. California students will. At the same time, California students may not get the opportunity to encounter the perspective of a Border Patrol agent.

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