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How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions Of History

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How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions Of History

How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions Of History

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This summer, there's been an intense debate about the Confederate flag and the legacy of slavery. In Texas, that debate revolves around new textbooks that 5 million students will use when the school year begins next month. The question is, are students getting a full and accurate picture of the past? Laura Isensee of Houston Public Media reports.

LAURA ISENSEE, BYLINE: Houston teacher Samantha Manchac is already drawing up lessons for her 11th grade U.S. history class. The first lesson she'll teach her students - how textbooks can tell different versions of history.

SAMANTHA MANCHAC: We're going to have these textbooks. We're going to utilize these textbooks to some extent, but I also want you to be critical of the textbooks and not take this as the be-all and end-all of American history.

ISENSEE: She doesn't want to rely solely on the brand-new books coming to her students and millions of others across Texas. She says the guidelines for the books downplay some issues, like slavery, and skirt others, like Jim Crow laws. She says it's...

MANCHAC: ...Definitely an attempt, in many instances, to whitewash our history as opposed to exposing students to kind of the reality of things and letting them make decisions for themselves.

ISENSEE: To understand how Texas got these books, we need a quick history lesson. In 2010, state education leaders adopted new, more conservative learning standards. For example, what caused the Civil War?

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LAWRENCE ALLEN: The causes of the Civil War, including slavery and states' rights...

ISENSEE: That's Lawrence Allen, a Democrat on the Texas Board of Education. He argued back then to list slavery first. Instead, the state board voted to soften slavery's role. Here's Pat Hardy, a Republican member at the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT HARDY: Sectionalism, states' rights were the real issues behind what was the Civil War. Slavery was an after issue.

ISENSEE: These standards became the outline for publishers to sell books to the Texas market, the second largest in the country. The final materials were approved last fall. After some examination, the state board says the books do the job. Others aren't so sure.

ED COUNTRYMAN: What bothered me is the huge disconnect between all that we've learned and what tends to go into the standard story as textbooks tell it.

ISENSEE: Ed Countryman is a history professor at Southern Methodist University. He says the book should include more about slavery and race throughout U.S. history.

COUNTRYMAN: It's kind of like teaching physics and stopping, say, at Newton, without bringing in Einstein and that sort of thing.

DONNA BAHORICH: The history of the United States is full of the good, the bad and the ugly and often at the same time.

ISENSEE: Donna Bahorich is the current chair of the Texas Board of Education. She's confident the books reflect that spectrum. She admits the state standards didn't specifically mention important things like Jim Crow laws. But she says if teachers and the final books fill in the blanks, students will get a full picture. For NPR News, I'm Laura Isensee in Houston.

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