In The Press Column

October 09, 1991 2 min read

California’s pace-setting effort to reshape and revitalize the teaching of social studies is the focus of a cover story in the Sept. 29, 1991, New York Times Magazine.

Robert Reinhold, the Times’s Los Angeles bureau chief, recaps the history of the state’s curricular “framework” for these subjects, shows firsthand the melting-pot nature of California’s school population, and takes the reader on a riveting tour of protests and other actions aimed at derailing the new history textbooks from Houghton Mifflin that bear the burden of bringing multiculturalism to instruction deeply rooted in Western thought.

“The process by which these books were written, debated, amended, and refined,” says the author, “sheds light en the enormous complexity and political contentiousness of teaching history in this polyglot country.”

The Times piece, titled “Class Struggle,” is illustrated with pages from the new texts, which were specially designed by Houghton Mifflin to employ the latest in visual techniques to pique interest and aid “visual learners.”

In an unprecedented move, Publishers Weekly, a leading voice in the publishing world, devoted its Sept, 27, 1991, cover to editorial copy, rather than its usual paid advertising. The topic addressed was education.

In an open letter to President Bush, the editors urged that he read Savage Inequalities, a new release by Jonathan Kozol tracing disparities in U.S. school funding. The pages backing the cover feature an excerpt from the book’s foreword and a letter by John F. Baker, P.w.'s editor, recommending that publishers coordinate an industry-wide program to promote literacy.

The concerns prompting the unusual move, according to the editors, have as much to do with bottom lines as with altruism: “Our own reason for urging you to read [the book],” they write, “is that the future of our business--publishing obviously depends on the quality of our schools and the readers they produce.”

This last Columbus Day before the 1492 quincentenary has been a signal for the popular press to begin its debunking of Christopher Columbus, the myth.

Teachers eager to get a head start on the long year of reappraising the Italian explorer might find the October American Heritage of help. In “Everything You Need To Know About Columbus” can be found answers to such questions as: Was he first? Why did he sail for Spain? and Why are they saying such awful things about him now? The editors call the offering “a Columbus catechism.” --M.S.R. & S.K.G.

A version of this article appeared in the October 09, 1991 edition of Education Week as In The Press Column