The Textbook Trap » Errors in history books » Further criticisms of history textbooks

History for Dummies

Two major weaknesses exist in secular history textbooks—the “dumbing down” of the text itself as publishers adjust to “short attention spans and non-readers” and the “increasing content bias and distortion.”1

The American Textbook Council, an independent national research organization established to review and monitor history textbooks in U.S. schools, found in their 2004 review of world history textbooks that “in order to meet demands for scope, diversity and readability, world history textbooks abandon narrative and complexity…. [to] provide unreliable, often scanty information.”2

Gilbert Sewall, of the American Textbook Council, accuses the publishers of academic irresponsibility:  “The complex phenomenon known as the ‘dumbing down’ of textbooks is a rational activity on the part of value-free sellers who seek to capture a larger share of a nationwide market.  Textbook buyers are mainly concerned that their textbooks be able to reach all students, including the least academically capable.”3

Reviewers for textbooks in all disciplines describe books overflowing with photographs, graphs, maps, drawings, charts, and sidebars, lots of white space, and very little text.  The text that does exist is characterized by short sentences and paragraphs.  These pages are visually appealing, certainly, but are they pedagogically effective?

Many experts claim these “dumbed down” texts are educationally harmful. But the distorted content is even more troubling.

Learn more about the changes being made to textbook content. And find out why publishers do what they do.

1Gilbert T. Sewall, American Textbook Council, senate testimony before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (September 24, 2003).
2Gilbert T. Sewall, World History Textbooks: A Review, 2004. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 485 622), p.4.
3Ibid, p. 6