Americans, Soviets Critique Texts

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Dallas--The errors and distortions contained in Soviet and American textbooks help foster the mutual "fear and paranoia" of the two superpowers, a group of scholars from both countries said here last week.

Releasing the results of a 10-year study of each other's history and geography textbooks, the scholars said that ideologically biased authors tend to highlight the negative aspects of the other country.

"If they had only the textbooks before them, Soviet youths would have the impression that ... we are a dangerous country, determined to crush their revolutionary experiment," said Howard Mehlinger, dean of the school of education and professor of Russian history at Indiana University.

Given that point of view, he said, children in the U.S.S.R. "must be vigilant, alert, and hope like hell we don't start World War III."

U.S. textbooks, said Vladislav M. Zubok, a research fellow at the U.S.A.-Canada Institute of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, leave a "mirror image" impression of Soviet aims in the minds of American children.

Representatives from both countries urged publishers to eliminate factual errors, make better use of current research, and tone down emotional language.

While such steps would not remove all the differences between the countries' texts, they would help promote "mutual respect and understanding," said Grigoriy N. Sevastianov, chief of the American and African Division of the Soviet academy's Institute of World History.

"Improving relations between our two countries creates a favorable climate for this effort," Mr. Sevastianov said. "Let's not spoil our chance."

Cultural Exchange

The textbook-study project began in 1977 as part of a cultural and educational exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Ministry of Education sponsored that country's participation; the U.S. side of the project was sponsored by the National Council for the Social Studies, the Association of American Publishers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Nearing its completion in 1979, the project was halted after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and put on hold until 1985. It was resurrected then as part of a new cultural agreement signed by President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The participants met at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wis., this month to share their findings and presented the study's results here last week at the annual meeting of the ncss

A 1981 report, based on the preliminary findings of the panel, revealed numerous examples of factual errors and distortions in both countries' textbooks. For example, it found that many American texts incorrectly identified Lenin's first name as "Nikolai," instead of Vladimir.

"If you talked about Tom Washington or George Jefferson, we would find that absurd," said Mr. Mehlinger. "They thought it was a deliberate plot to insult him."

Meanwhile, the Soviet textbooks, while relatively error-free, included "subtle loadings," according to Mr. Mehlinger.

Though many errors of fact have been eliminated since the release of the preliminary report, the scholars said, books used now still tend to omit certain facts or present them in a biased light.

Mr. Mehlinger noted, for example, that Soviet texts strongly imply that American cities are poverty- and crime-ridden, that racism is endemic and pervasive, and that banks and large financial interests control the political process.

Soviet scholars, on the other hand, said they were offended by American texts that portray the Soviet Union as a corrupt, isolated "land of permanent winter," separated from the rest of Europe, and allowing the state to control where people live and work.

"All stereotypes of the economic and social life of the U.S.S.R. are still widespread," said Vladimir P. Maksakovsky, chief of the economic-geography department of the Moscow Pedagogical Institute. "The authors don't have good information about the geography, history, and economy of the U.S.S.R."

'Perestroika' Reforms

Mr. Sevastianov of the Academy of Sciences said that educators in his country are likely to consider the study group's recommendations as they revise textbooks over the next few years as part of the societal reforms known as "perestroika," or restructuring, currently under way under the leadership of Mr. Gorbachev.

In the United States, publishers will analyze their books with an eye toward removing factual errors, ac4cording to Barbara Flynn, an editorial vice president at Scott, Foresman and Company.

She also urged scholars of Soviet history and geography to help textbook writers eliminate the huge gaps--in some cases as much as 25 years--between current scholarship on the Soviet Union and material in textbooks.

But according to Mr. Mehlinger, the degree of change resulting from the study is likely to be influenced most by the political climate between the United States and the Soviet Union.

"Whether the tone of a book becomes more highly critical or more friendly depends more on the state of the relationship than anything a group of scholars might say," he concluded.

Vol. 07, Issue 12

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