Curriculum Column

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The American Textbook Council has published a provocative manual that outlines the shortcomings and assets of history and social-studies textbooks and offers guidelines to educators who select texts for their schools.

Gilbert T. Sewall, the director of the council, said he wrote the 64-page book after the council received "urgent'' requests from people seeking help in choosing textbooks.

Even though America guards a tradition of local--or perhaps state--curricula, the book points out that a shrinking textbook market is leading toward a national curriculum, especially for history and social studies because of the political sensitivity that surrounds those subjects.

"The cost of developing and selling history and social-studies texts is greater than in such less polarizing subjects as algebra or spelling,'' the book says. Consequently, "publishers' reluctance to invest money in new ... products is likely to increase in the 1990's, resulting in a smaller field of standard books from which educators can choose.''

Many of the available textbooks are flawed, boring, or both, the manual says.

The book notes that some publishers have incorporated the contributions of previously neglected segments of the population, such as women and some ethnic groups. But in doing so, the manual says, some of the texts promote a revisionist history that denigrates or compresses the Western Europeans and their progeny.

Such superficiality and political sensitivity can result in texts written in an insipid style, the book concludes.

Copies of History Textbooks: A Standard and Guide are available for $12 each, prepaid, from the American Textbook Council, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 518, New York, N.Y. 10115.

As part of her master's thesis, a graduate student at Washington State University is developing lesson plans for high school and college students on Brown v. Board of Education and desegregation.

Liza Rognas conceived the idea when she came upon the original legal documents at a regional facility of the National Archives in Kansas City, Mo. They had only recently been returned to the government repository from the courts when she was an intern there in 1992, she said.

Her goal, in part, is to impart to students of today the emotions of students of that era.

Ms. Rognas hopes to complete the work by December, then send it for review to the National Archives and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Vol. 13, Issue 32

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