Research and Reports
American history textbooks, in general, provide students with information about nuclear war and weapons that is "inadequate, misleading, and irresponsible," according to a survey of 11 of the most widely used junior- and senior-high-school history textbooks.
The survey, "Militarism in Textbooks: An Analysis," is believed to be the first to look at how history texts treat the subjects of war and the military. It was conducted for the Council on Interrracial Books for Children, a New York-based nonprofit organization concerned about equitable representations of minorities in textbooks and children's books. Sharon Wigutoff, an analyst of children's books, and Sergiu Herscovici, a political-science researcher at the City University of New York, reviewed the books for the council.
Their analysis showed that, while the texts do not overtly glamorize war, neither do they discuss the philosophical questions about the use of war as a means of resolving disputes.
The texts' treatments of nuclear war and nuclear weapons varied considerably; in general, the researchers found, they failed to present an in-depth examination of the issues.
"At worst, texts avoid reference to nuclear arms completely and concentrate on the use of nuclear power as an energy source," they write. "At best, they acknowledge the existence of an arms race and a need for arms limitation, but they uniformly fail to provide the background necessary for informed discussion about the consequences of the arms race, nor do they ever make clear that limiting arms does not eliminate the threat of nuclear war."
The authors recommend several steps textbook publishers could take to improve their treatment of these issues. The texts should describe the criticism of war that has occurred and still occurs, they say, and should include comparative information on the relative costs of arms and of social services. The books, they add, should "convey to students the grave consequences of war in the nuclear age," and "challenge students to think critically about nuclear issues."
The report is published in Vol. 13, Nos. six and seven of the council's Bulletin. Copies are available (prepaid) for $3.50 from the Council on Interracial Books for Children, Inc., 1841 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10023.