Textbooks. I’ve got a love hate relationship with them. They can be useful in certain situations yet they cannot be reliable in most. To me, textbooks are in some regards the Wikipedia to print sources. You can go to them to get information on a subject but you cannot always trust the material within them.
In two articles that James Loewen writes, he brings up the way that textbooks have been presenting the Confederacy and the grounds on which the Civil War was fought. In his article Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? he gives evidence as to why many people have false ideas about the Confederacy and it stems from what they are learning from textbooks. A second article, Time to De-Confederatize the Textbook, “The American Journey”: An Open Letter to James McPherson he writes to textbook author James McPherson about the conflicting stances that he has on the Civil War based on one of his books Battle Cry of Freedom. In his book that he writes, Loewen argues that he presents the main issue of the Civil War was slavery not states’ rights yet he contradicts that in the textbook that he authors.
With the coverage of important historical events being questioned in our textbooks, there is no way to avoid the questions that have to be answered. What role should textbooks play in history classrooms? During an NPR interview, Samantha Manchac a high school history teacher explains the way that she uses textbooks in her classroom. She says, “We’re going to have these textbooks. We’re going to utilize these textbooks to some extent, but I also want you to be critical of the textbooks and not take this as the be-all and end-all of American history.” I think she brings up a great solution for the use of textbooks. Use them as a way for students to gain a higher level of thinking by allowing the to critically analyze the material in them with other sources on the topic being discussed. They should not be the first and last source that students are viewing in the classroom but we cannot ignore that they are there, so lets use them as a research tool rather than the means in which we teach.
All of that being said, what else can teachers use to help assist students’ learning process? In an article by the American Historical Association Staff, they discuss a new website created to be a more reliable way for students to get information. It is a website called The American Yawp. This tool gives students a fun and unique way to use textbook-like resources during and outside of class. If teachers are going to resort from using the state given textbook, then it is up to us to find new ways to help support our teaching and this website is a great starting point.