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Report of American Textbook Council 2004

Man-is-good
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11/22/2011 10:51:01 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
I remember reading a PDF of a review written by a member (Gilbert T. Sewall) on the quality of global history textbooks. It is a critical essay and contains some detailed criticisms on the popular works of Pearson,Houghton Mifflin, Prentice Hall, and so forth dedicated to high school-and middle schoolers....

I am interested in seeing responses and counter-arguments to the claims of Sewall.

http://www.historytextbooks.org...
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto." --Terence

"I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality."--Thoreau
Man-is-good
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11/23/2011 3:39:15 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
Bump.
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto." --Terence

"I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality."--Thoreau
Logic_on_rails
Posts: 2,445
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11/23/2011 4:12:14 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
I read the PDF, and generally agree with it's messages. Most of what he says is fairly spot on - if a business wants to make money they'll make their product available to a wider audience, which in the case of education means less challenging for gifted students (similar trends with newspapers and sensationalism, shorter attention span with technology in some cases and so forth) I won't go into every point below (mostly because I agree with most of what was said) .

One point I disagree with Sewall on is about what he describes as an 'public obligation' for the textbook publishers. As a private company we'd like to think the public's interests are in mind, yet there shouldn't be an 'obligation' (particularly as if they do improve all of their work they'll likely become less popular and somebody else will come up with a low quality product) .

Also, the point about political focus groups and all is so true, and it's not just true for history - I see things about women's rights, indigenous activities and so forth everywhere, and this also links back to the misinformation point where societies are praised for previously unknown golden ages and so forth.

Let me give an example of said group - Indigenous figures. In my geography textbook there are 2 units - 'Aboriginal perspective on the origin of Australia' and 'Geographical perspective on the origins of Australia' . Note that the wording of the former implies a non-geographical perspective given the second unit heading? And guess which one is taught first in geography? The non-geographical perspective! Special interests and political correctness? Surely not...

I won't go into every point of detail as I said before, and so simply conclude as to my general agreement with the paper.

On a side note, you were looking for counter arguments, does this mean you also agreed with the paper?
"Tis not in mortals to command success
But we"ll do more, Sempronius, we"ll deserve it
Man-is-good
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11/23/2011 4:24:34 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
At 11/23/2011 4:12:14 PM, Logic_on_rails wrote:

On a side note, you were looking for counter arguments, does this mean you also agreed with the paper?

I do agree but I am interested in how people may counter Sewall's contentions, which needless to say--was very accurate.

As for his contention of the influence of political groups, I suppose it could be attributed to a poor choice of historiography (emphasizing Mary Wollenstonecraft over Voltaire, curtailing the lives of important historical figures into boxes, a feat that appears in my own history textbook--essentially making it a picture group....

I also would like to point out Sewall's contention on narrative flow. Sewall writes, "World history textbooks have abandoned narrative for a broken format of competing instructional activities." Generally, this is true since my textbook, which is Littel's "Patterns of Interaction" does divide world history into themes, often stitching different themes and events together and overlapping them. This is another problem considering that a) these instructional activities do prove meaningless, and often serve to generalize the past through concision ("Concision turns textbooks into feeble outlines and reference sources.").

Logic, do you mind updating pictures of your history textbook?

As for others, what approach should textbooks take in documenting history?
"Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto." --Terence

"I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality."--Thoreau
Logic_on_rails
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11/23/2011 7:06:47 PM
Posted: 5 years ago
MIG, I can't really update pictures of my history textbook without clarification. I do Aust. History (mandatory; not a world history textbook but does encompass a little world history) and history elective (more like world history, but I don't possess a textbook for the subject) . In years 7 and 8 the study of ancient and medieval societies occurs. In years 11 and 12 history is purely an elective - choices include ancient history, modern history and history extension 1 and 2 . As a year 9 student I don't have access to these textbooks for years 11 and 12. Note: I'm in the NSW education system.

On political influences, 3 of the optional topics (chapters) in my Aust. His. textbook revolve around a key political figure of each of the 3 main political parties currently in Australia. Furthermore, Indigenous culture is occasionally praised in my science textbook for some of their 'useful inventions' , which don't hold a candle to the advancement of European and Asian societies, the 2 main powers over the course of history. Of course, we agree on the point of political influences.

Narrative flow is certainly quite poor, partially due to the teaching of unrelated topics (back to our interest groups) with no coherence. Furthermore, the lack of flow showcases a lack of depth and understanding that should be passed onto students.

Also, on simplification of content (picture book and so forth), this might be highlighted by the difference between year 11 and 12 textbooks and prior years textbooks (in my state you can leave school following year 10 (minus some technicalities)) . For example, my commerce textbook is supposed to cover years 9 and 10, yet given the time allocation for it vs. economics textbook (years 11 and 12) and through content amount (some estimation on my part) , I deduced that the commerce textbook had about 7 times less content per time unit! Simplification?

On the approach point, I'll have to think on it to come up with a good answer. Suffice to say that a restoration of flow, coherence, and less pandering to interest groups, along with the teaching of ideas and concepts (versus trivia) would be a good start.
"Tis not in mortals to command success
But we"ll do more, Sempronius, we"ll deserve it