Many American textbooks gloss over “the intrinsic nature of totalitarian governments” and seem to be written by authors “unable or unwilling to make crucial distinctions” between the United States and the Soviet Union, Undersecretary of Education Gary L. Bauer told a group of publishers last week.
Addressing the school division of the Association of American Publishers, Mr. Bauer argued that “what happens to children under Communism is not in any sense of the word education.” It is, he said, “indoctrination in which textbooks play a key role.”
In America, he maintained, “our way is different” and allows publishers “great discretion in what you publish.”
“It falls on your shoulders,” Mr. Bauer told the publishers, “to act responsibly in helping decide what our children must learn.”
In view of the current problems with textbooks, the undersecretary suggested that American students may be ill-prepared to meet and debate their Soviet counterparts in the exchange programs that develop from the recent Geneva summit talks.
Some children, he said, are unaware of the special freedoms they enjoy and lack important knowledge about America’s past.
And it is history textbooks that are to blame, he asserted-textbooks that “are quick to be hypercritical of American institutions while glossing over the intrinsic character of totalitarian governments.” Also culpable, he said, are textbooks that “suffer from amnesia,” leaving out important world events.
“Unevenness coupled with relativism, bad history joined to ideology, events without cause or consequences—such shortcomings do no service to children who will have the burden of preserving liberty in a dangerous world,” the undersecretary said.
‘Tell the Truth’
Textbook publishers, he advised, should “do nothing more than tell the truth” and reject censorship that attempts to hide that truth from American schoolchildren. Although textbooks should not “contain indoctrination masquerading as education,” Mr. Bauer said, neither should they read “as if they were written by neutrals in the struggle between freedom and slavery.”
Marlowe G. Teig, chairman of the A.A.P.'S school division and senior vice president Houghton Miffiin Company’s school division, responded that he and his colleagues “are keenly aware of the responsibility we have as publishers in a free society.”
But, Mr. Teig noted, “the extension of the undersecretary’s argument is that authors and publishers in our free society become propagandists for a free society.”
And he questioned whether that is an appropriate role. “How would we be different from the authors and publishers in the U.S.S.R. who advocate Communism?” he asked. ''How would a one-sided view of the history of our world help our children?”
Mr. Teig suggested, instead, that publishers present students with both sides of issues and let the facts “speak for themselves.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 1986 edition of Education Week as Bauer Blasts U.S. Texts’ Treatment of Soviets