California’s Book Ban

State Senator Leland Yee, a liberal San Francisco Democrat, wants to bar California from adopting any new material from curriculum changes in Texas, which he and other critics view as right-wing revisionism. Though much publicized, the charge fails to stand up, but some textbooks do need correction. Those would be California textbooks, and this is not a new problem.

“They’re all horrors, and there is no reason for them.” State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig said that in 1988 about California’s watered-down texts. Honig, a liberal San Francisco Democrat, duly invited scholar Diane Ravitch to revise California’s history curriculum, which had been tasked to instill pride in accredited victim groups.

“Telling publishers that their books must instill pride only guarantees a phony version of feel-good history,” Ravitch wrote. “Publishers, as a result, bend over backward to be positive, whether writing about the genocidal reign of Mao Tse-tung (presumably to avoid offending his admirers) or the unequal treatment of women in Islamic societies (to avoid offending Muslims).”

Texts should be accurate, Ravitch wrote, “but to impose contemporary political requirements on how the events are portrayed only ensures that the history we teach our students is inaccurate and dishonest.”  In California, it certainly has been that.

The textbook An Age of Voyages: 1350-1600 showed Sikh founder Guru Nanak wearing a crown instead of a turban, and a beard that was trimmed instead of long, as alert Sikhs pointed out. At the time, the California Department of Education had no mechanism for ensuring that textbooks were “factually accurate.”  Little wonder that errors became commonplace.

“Studies have found hundreds of errors in California textbooks,” says the website of the Textbook Trust, a watchdog group. The mistakes include geography, such as the notion that California’s southern border is the Rio Grande. It isn’t, and that river ventures nowhere near the Golden State, whose textbooks also fail to get math right.

A second-grade math text used in 79 schools in California’s capital city of Sacramento contends that five times three equals five. The book, fully approved by the state, is part of a series published by MacMillan/McGraw-Hill and used through the sixth grade. In the nearby Folsom Cordova district teachers have students hunting for errors as part of a learning exercise. The eager fourth-grade students documented 90 errors in the math series, for which the district paid $1.9 million.

So the kids shape up as smarter than the publisher’s fact-checkers and anyone in what the Sacramento Bee calls the “labyrinthian process” of approving the books for the classroom. So do the teachers who are correcting the errors with red pen.  Many other state-approved California textbooks could be marked up.

Meanwhile, the “Texas Curriculum Massacre,” (Newsweek ) that so disturbed Sen. Yee and other liberals, is overblown. As David Upton, assistant professor of politics at the University of Dallas, noted, this may not be the best curriculum, but “no one has pointed to a particular significant error of fact.” And contrary to accusations, Upton writes, “the curriculum is replete with specific references to Jefferson, religious freedom, the civil rights movement, and the achievements and struggles of women and minorities.”

These will never be enough to assuage critics on the left, argues Amity Shlaes, of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.  “Whatever lines it inserts about church, state, hip-hop or the Alamo,” writes Shlaes, “the board will not restore true balance. It will merely manage to make the curriculum a little less skewed to the left.” In a more general way, she adds, “the left also hijacked American culture” so the Texas social studies issue makes sense as a “small check on a larger problem.”

Yet another problem lurks in the background, the government education system itself, an unreformable collective farm of ignorance and mediocrity. This system encourages mass purchase of textbooks, with large states like Texas and California setting the pace. The books may be politically correct, and instill pride in Maoists and Muslims, but that is not the same as accurate. That is why Guru Nanak gets a crown instead of a turban, the Rio Grande gets misplaced, and five times three equals five. Call it the stupidity inherent in the system.

  • Gary Rumain

    Shouldn't the authors who made those mistakes also be named and shamed? After all, it begins with them. Finding out what other books they've written, if any, might also help.

  • gpcase

    As a history teacher, I have found errors of omission more than outright factual errors. For example, the causes of the Great Depression omit the role the Federal Reserve played, both pre- and post-crash, and neglect any discussion of how New Deal programs prevented a recovery. Furthermore they omit any discussion of the removal of wage and price controls after WWII.

    Is it any wonder the majority of the population does not have a conceptual understanding of how market economies work and thus blame lack of regulation for anything that fails?

  • gamalpha

    Wasn't the left up in arms about so called book banning by Palin from an Alaskan library? What hypocrites.

  • Jim C.

    Why on earth would there be a discussion, in a high school history book, of the New Deal "preventing" economic recovery, much less wage and price controls? Aside from being obviously politically motivated, that seems more college-level, to me. And what prevents you from having that discussion in class?

    I am all for some sort of general level of understanding of market economies–but is there room in an already jammed curriculum for it?

    • Democracy First

      A great many economists, perhaps even the majority, now believe New Deal policies aggravated and prolonged the Great Depression, along with American protectionism setting off global retaliation. Do you object to this being taught?

      • Jim C.

        Not on political grounds, particularly when you put it fairly, as you did.

        I am skeptical of a typical high school class's ability to think about such things at that level. Realistically, it would be a triumph to get them to even understand what a depression means economically and when it took place. But if they can, by all means, bring out the economists.

  • Jim C.

    It's not a "book ban," for cripes sakes–its a choice of textbooks.

  • rich b

    None of this surprises me. Recently I read that when questioned about which Asian country we fought during WWII, a large percentage of students answered with Vietnam. And when asked to identify the individual States of the United States on a map, just about the same percentage of students couldn't come up with a sizeable number.

    So… a hale and hearty screw you to the far-left and teachers unions (redundant?) for their gift to America – revisionist history and classroom ignorance.

    • Jim C.

      Because parents have no responsibility in their students' education?

  • gpcase

    You would include such causes and extenuating circumstances, in age appropriate language (a student who can read the Federalist Papers can read excerpts from Adam Smith), to teach them about what happens to a market economy when it is compromised by a flood of fiat money and unconstitutionally restricted…and by extension, what happens to a free people when government usurps their liberties.

    If they learn to discern cause-and-effect relationships, or uncover fallacies in arguments, they would be developing the critical thinking skills necessary to become immune from propaganda and demogoguery (to be fair, from both left and right) if they have any hope of remaining a free people. If they don't understand the core concepts that form the foundation of a free society, they will not remain free by the third generation of students who have been miseducated and indoctrinated into accepting collectivist assumptions.

    • Jim C.

      First: I applaud you as a teacher and support whatever you think is appropriate for your class. You sound like you'd be an excellent teacher.

      I am also in agreement with the mission of understanding first exactly what our freedoms entail and why they are important; and second, a basic understanding of the economic system.

      As a realist, however, some of what you mention in your second paragraph sounds a bit more "college-appropriate," if you will. Some students are ready for critical thinking; some just need to learn that the Civil War did not occur in 1066–know what I mean?

  • gpcase

    I would add that it would not only be politically motivated but intellectually dishonest to omit the real causes and instead have kids mistakenly believe that the New Deal ended the depression.

  • USMVSniper

    When academic multiculturalists attack logic or science as an ethnocentrism, when they decry capitalism and extol traditional peasant life, when they propound the equality of all moral perspectives (as long as they are GROUP perspectives), they are discarding the philosophic foundation that must exist for human beings to prosper on earth and in society with each other. Logic is not an arbitrary social convention, like the choice between chopsticks and a fork and spoon. Logic is the art of reasoning correctly. Science is not a tool of oppression, it is a tremendous body of knowledge that has liberated the average human being from bondage. And not all moral systems are equal; moral reasoning must proceed on the basis of objective standards and an appreciation of the value-significance of individual life and happiness. The academic multiculturalist offers one type of tribalism for another; while the Objectivist (like people of Enlightenment values more generally) offers an answer to tribalism, no matter what its form.