Skewed History: Textbook Coverage of Early America and the New Deal

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Six reviewers critique portions of five popular history and civic textbooks, finding that, despite some good qualities, they contain serious flaws. Overall, these textbooks fail to lay out a coherent historical framework, offer a truncated understanding of political theory, exhibit a bias in favor of a progressive interpretation of history, minimize the importance of religion (especially Protestantism), favor New Deal economics, and devote insufficient attention to the formation of republican virtue among students.

National Association of Scholars director of research David Randall, along with professors and scholars Bruce Frohnen, Kevin Gutzman, Jason Ross, Amity Shlaes, and William Pettinger, review portions of five popular textbooks used in history and civic education.

The textbooks under discussion are:

  • “American History,” 2018 edition, HMH Social Studies
  • “United States History,” 2016 edition, Pearson
  • “United States History and Geography,” 2018 edition, McGraw Hill
  • “The Unfinished Nation,” Ninth Edition, McGraw Hill
  • “America’s History,” Ninth Edition, Bedford St. Martin’s

Though the scholars worked independently, they found that the same general problems permeated each textbook. In straightforward and even-keeled prose, they catalogue problems such as too much graphics impeding student learning. They also found that the textbooks favor a progressive version of U.S. history, minimize the influence of religion – and Protestantism in particular – and feature a reductive understanding of political theory (for example, offering two-dimensional, flat sketches of Enlightenment thought and the tenets of New Deal-era liberalism). The textbooks also seem to agree with the presuppositions underlying New Deal economics. Finally, they neglect the importance of character formation, an especially glaring problem because students need to be taught the virtues of republican self-government.

In order to improve history and civic education in the United States, the reviewers argue that students need better textbooks that, in David Randall’s estimation, are “fair-minded, fact-based, and not subject to ideological bias.” Through the publication of this report, NAS aims to provide guidance to school boards and significantly improve the College Board’s standards.

Read the full report here.