Widely Adopted History Textbooks


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The American Textbook Council is often asked to provide usage lists and sales rankings of the nation’s widely adopted history textbooks. The Council cannot provide such information, which is usually proprietary and not available outside textbook companies. The details of textbook volume and sales have never been easy to obtain. Today these numbers and data are harder than ever to calculate. The number of major school publishers has dropped from about a dozen to three. Major publishers do their best to keep their products and their performance opaque.

The Council's databases, developed since 1986, survey publishers’ websites, key states, and large school districts to determine what are the nation's most widely adopted textbooks in history and social studies. They track stand-alone volumes in several editions and titles.

The instructional materials that mass-market publishers have developed in the last five years have at best tangential connections with these traditional author-based textbooks. New, radically reconstituted programs - packaged and ornamental, not authored or text-centered - and the apparent departure of most established textbooks - leave the Council no option but to discontinue lists and rankings of social studies textbooks as it has done in the past.

Textbook choice for teachers has in recent decades shrunk to almost nothing. Text-light picture books and easy readers are now almost universal; content distinctions are minor, and at the K-6 level, almost indistinguishable. The wide-scale shift in elementary schools to whiteboard learning and other computer-based instruction makes the standard textbook one of many media in many classrooms, not the center of teaching and learning. In high schools projects and activities frequently substitute for reading and memorization. The challenge to literacy and serious historical thought is obvious.

In roughly the last five years, since 2010, the three remaining major K-12 publishers - Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - have re-branded and scrambled earlier products. Odious new instructional materials, notably Teachers Curriculum Institute materials (TCI) have gained classroom prominence, indicating the trend toward less demanding, more progressive, multicultural classroom products favored among teachers. Compounding the problem, state textbook adoptions have lost their force. The last Texas state history textbook adoption was in 2003-2004. California suspended textbook adoptions in 2009.

Determined teachers with some autonomy in textbook selection can try to find and purchase copies of backlisted or “classic” textbooks with older copyrights. Teachers should keep in mind: older books used in history courses are not “worse” books, even books bought with copyrights that are ten years old. Some established older textbooks and editions are available for purchase on publishers’ websites. Teachers can buy out-of-print textbooks through third-party sellers (albeit in small numbers) on the Internet.

The Council cannot recommend any Pearson middle- or high-school social studies textbook titles. Pearson apparently has taken out of print three established Prentice Hall textbooks, Boorstin’s History of the United States, Cayton’s Pathways to the Present, and Davidson’s American Nation. Prentice Hall now issues its widely used world history, Connections to Today, with a generic World History title.

In secondary-level U.S. history McGraw-Hill’s Glencoe offers the “best” of the easy readers, the popular program, American Journey. Glencoe’s Human Heritage is an established, satisfactory middle-school world history.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Holt McDougal publishes The Americans in high-school U.S. history and Patterns of Interaction in high-school world history. These two full-service programs are the most instructionally sound textbook choices available to teachers who must choose from K-12 materials and are recommended.

Given the absence of quality and choice in standard-issue K-12 social studies textbooks, one that stands in stark contrast to textbook publishing a generation ago, the Council strongly recommends that high school teachers consider the use of a “college level” textbook of the kind employed in honors and Advanced Placement course.

College Level Textbooks for High School Students

Fifteen to twenty-five major college-level American History survey textbooks exist, depending on one’s markers and metrics. College books - so designated - are recommended for all able high school students, not only Advanced Placement students. Many college surveys are relatively easy to read - they are designed for community colleges and made to be readable to the English challenged. College-level textbooks have stronger narrative threads and greater substance. They are more readable. They make more episodic and chronological sense than the fragmented, text-light fare in 8-12 grade offerings. Some leading U.S. history textbooks include:

BrinkleyUnfinished Nation McGraw Hill
DivineAmerica Past and Present Prentice Hall
FaragherOut of ManyPrentice Hall
HenrettaAmerica’s HistoryBedford/Macmillan
KennedyThe American PageantHoughton Mifflin/Cengage
NortonA People and a NationHoughton Mifflin/Cengage
TindallAmerica: A Narrative HistoryNorton

The 2010 Texas History Standards

Texas will adopt social studies and history textbooks in 2016-2017.

Click here to go to the 2010 Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies code.

In 2010, after a year of conflict and the media spotlight the Texas state board of education adopted controversial social studies standards that will determine the content of instructional materials. Texas is important because of its national impact on instructional materials. At the time partisan multiculturalists on the board tried to use the hearings to their political advantage. "They are re-writing history," fumed Mary Helen Berlanga, a longtime board member and Hispanic activist. She told the New York Times, "They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don't exist."

If it were a conservative victory, it was a Pyrrhic victory, as the media gave the yearlong process gross distortions, not disguising its partisanship. California radicals in the state legislature led by since disgraced state senator Leland Yee claimed Texas was re-writing textbooks in 2010 and deviating from established lines of the curriculum. Today millions of Americans think incorrectly that in 2010 Christian extremists on the Texas state school board engineered a top-to-bottom U.S. history textbook overhaul that will corrupt instruction nationwide.

The 2010 Texas standards on the whole conformed to what's already in U.S. history textbooks. The impact on history textbooks nationwide will be slight. An activist, confrontational, self-righteous Christian majority on the Texas state board led by aggressive Christian activist Don McLeroy dug its own grave, demonstrating enough ignorance in science and history to discredit itself with its critics.

Still, the concerted progressive response and media campaign against the Texas state board was shameful and disingenuous. Multicultural revisionists continue to label their adversaries as racist, bigot, nativist and other ugly labels with the intention to suspend all critical examination of their own ideological agenda. Whether or not the use of these epithets and techniques will continue to work politically in the future is an open question.

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