Schools textbooks change with times

Publishers diversifying textbooks, adding primary sources
By: | April 13, 2016

Despite recent controversies, most K12 U.S. history textbooks now devote more space to viewpoints outside of the white-European male narrative, historians say.

“The whole approach to historiography has changed” says Luess Sampson-Lizotte, vice president of humanities & science product development at Pearson. “It is a little broader and more inclusive of multiple perspectives of the American story.”

A recently released Discovery Education Social Studies “Techbook” is a digital textbook that follows the C3 Framework’s inquiry-based approach, emphasizing literacy and writing skills.

As classrooms integrate technology into lessons, publishers have adapted to provide a wider array of digital material, says Catherine Mathis, chief communications officer for McGraw Hill. Such material includes interactive timelines and maps, videos and podcasts: “Things that tell history in a different way, that can really help students understand what happened” Mathis says.

Publishers can also provide more primary sources—such as letters, newspaper articles and photos—to use in classrooms, Mathis says.

In October 2015, a high school student at Pearland ISD in Texas used social media to criticize his McGraw Hill history book. In a chapter describing America as a nation of immigrants, a map caption read “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”

The student found the term “workers” offensive because the slaves were forced into captivity, and not paid—as the word “worker” implies in the latter. In the book, other places described the Atlantic Slave Trade in more depth, but the caption’s use of the word “workers” was incorrect, Mathis adds.

McGraw Hill immediately revised the text in the digital edition. It also allowed schools to purchase new books with the revised caption to receive a label of the new caption that could be placed over the old one. In addition, the company created a free lesson plan on the subject for teachers.

And a lesson learned for McGraw Hill—the company plans to diversify its list of book reviewers and increase the number of people reading each book before publication, Mathis says. “We wanted to use this as a learning moment, to focus on topics related to communication, cultural awareness and competency” she says.