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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Texas Textbook

Shannon Bream

Washington, DC


Expert: Reagan Gets the Shaft in Textbooks

March 11, 2010 - 1:45 PM | by: Shannon Bream

If you want to know just what your kids are learning from their history books, all you have to do is apply the “Reagan test,” says Professor Larry Schweikart.

As the Texas textbook battle continues to simmer, Schweikart says the first thing he does to determine whether a book is politically slanted is to go to any section discussing President Ronald Reagan. What you’ll find there, he says, will tell you everything you need to know, he says.

Schweikart says the majority of books he’s examined credit former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev with ending the Cold War, and not Reagan. That’s “a joke,” Schweikart says. “I lived through the Reagan years, I remember.”

“The reason why textbooks get to where they are is because this is the world view of (a) the people who write the text books, (b) people who edit the text books, and (c) people who publish them,” the history professor says.

Schweikart says the textbooks’ authors bring an inherently liberal viewpoint to their work.

“They all tend to come from New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia,” giving them a “drastically” different viewpoint from the rest of America, he says.

Aside from bias, there are factual errors as well.

One book — Call to Freedom: Beginnings to 1877 (Holt, 2003) — states on pages 53-54 that Christopher Columbus was “the first European explorer to land in the Americas.”  But Norseman Leif Ericson actually arrived hundreds of years earlier – a fact that is stated on page 18 of the same book.

How about the Louisiana Purchase in 1803? The same textbook says that the Louisiana Purchase extended America to the Mississippi River, when it actually expanded all the way to the Rocky Mountains.

Another text, The American Nation: Beginnings Through 1877 (Prentice, 2003),  states that the city of New Orleans was settled by the French in the 1600s. But didn’t actually happen until 1718.

With this in mind, parents may be inspired to start digging into their own children’s books to see what’s inside. And experts say that’s a great idea.

Gilbert T. Sewall, Director of the American Textbook Council, says: “The facts are often used to create an interpretation or reality that simply is at the very least controversial and may be dead wrong.”

Dr. Frank Wang, one-time president of Saxon Publishing, says there are serious “quality control” problems. Wang cautions that many books are thrown together on a tight schedule by a group of freelance writers, leaving them with little time or pride of authorship. He’s spotted errors touching on everything from the Statue of Liberty to the Korean War.

Sewall is also aware of the mistakes. “The problem with textbooks,” he says, “is missing information, or distorted information.”

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