Why is history being sugarcoated in history textbooks? Why are students not being told the truth about what happened in the past. I feel textbooks show only the positive side of america and tried to hide the ugly parts of the US.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles
No matter the facts, people do not always agree on what should be in the history books. There is so little room, and so much simplification required, that sometimes meaning is lost. That can also lead to writing textbooks with certain slants.

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
No matter the facts, people do not always agree on what should be in the history books. There is so little room, and so much simplification required, that sometimes meaning is lost. That can also lead to writing textbooks with certain slants.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

History textbooks are a little like newspapers ... they tell you all the "news that's fit to print" --- only it's an editor deciding what's fit to print.   As a political/economic conservative, I find them (newspaper and textbooks) to be biased toward the liberal interpretation of history.  Most of the issues covered in textbooks are, because of their complexity, presented in summary/interpreted format ... remember, when everything is not presented, editoral opinion is at work and we are bound to get a biased presentation; and this presumes that we actually have all the information.  One recently published book that gives a clear sense of this is William Saphire's "Scandalmongers" which shows, among other things, that things don't change all that much, especially in politics.

The other issue seems to be a more complcated one.  How much/many of the warts of history should out students know?  Do we need someone to model for them, even if that model is less that perfect?  I remember the "Washington never told a lie" story.  I'm sure he probably did, but I know it was helpful for me to think that there were important and famous people who felt strongly that the truth was important.  It's probably not true; he must have lied a little :) But when do students need to know that?  I see history as part fact, part myth; the question is about balance ...

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The posts here have done a wonderful job of articulating different points of view on this topic.  I think that the notion of supplementing textbooks is one essential point that has come out of this discussion.  If the textbook does sugarcoat history, then it is up to the teacher to decide if they wish to supplement this vision with something else that might convey another point of view.  At the same time, teachers have to assess if their students are ready to be able to embrace this other side.  In the final analysis, we cannot rely on textbooks to do this because of the financial consideration to which they are bound.  If textbooks are lacking, teachers must assess if and when their students are ready and able to accept something else.  If this comes in the form of primary or secondary sources, or through teacher inquiry, or real world application is going to have to lie in the realm of teacher discretion.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As has been mentioned, much of what's wrong with the textbooks is due to their not being impartial texts.  And the reason for that lack of impartiality is to preserve the publisher's ability to sell history texts -- so the content tends to be not only not factual, but bland and unconflicted.  By making the text palatable to school committees who buy books, the publishers insure that most students will roll their eyes and watch the clock when in history class.

Life is full of conflict.  What keeps kids interested in history, if it's taught correctly, is not to show just both sides, but the multiple problems and options any historical figure had to contend with --what conflicts they were immersed in -- and how they made the choices they did.  Comparing their times and tribulations with ours is to come to realize that there's nothing new under the Sun, only the names and places have changed.

The aforementioned books (People's history of the US and Lies my teacher told me) are an excellent place to start, and can easily supplement the traditional history text.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To add to both of these thorough answers, I'd like to mention the problems of textbook adoption. Remember, you're dealing with publishers whose first priorities are to run a business & make a profit- checking facts or correcting inaccuracies often comes second. Often, lobbyists involve themselves in the adoption process, essentially "vetting" each text and rejecting those with which they don't agree. This may include people from many different groups and philosophies, all fighting to ensure their interests are met over those of the others.

Also, if you're disappointed with your textbook, I'd recommend James Loewen's amazing little book Lies My Teacher Told Me. In it, the author surveys 12 different high school textbooks, including those designed for advanced courses. But instead of just pointing out inaccuracies & relating the actual facts, he researches the purpose behind omissions and changes, creating a fascinating look at how history is interpreted in schools.

One last note: you may want to look into Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. It really is an incredible read. While many will argue this point with me, since Zinn is an outspoken liberal revisionist historian, I firmly believe this is one of the best collections of primary accounts of historical events. In addition, he turns to the writings of average citizens for his discussion, which often present a very different interpretation than the writings of those in power.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would agree with you to some extent, but really not completely.  In fact, conservative commentators tend to argue just the opposite of what you say -- they say that textbooks are always protraying the US in a bad light.

To the extent that history is being "sugarcoated" it is because many people feel that history should be something that will help American students be proud of their country.  Textbooks that do not do this run the risk of being rejected by school districts.  So I would say it is more likely that high school textbooks will sugarcoat history.

College texts are not so likely to sugarcoat things and are, in my opinion, more likely to go the other way.  This is, again in my opinion, because academics in general are generally liberal.  College texts do tend to question things that the US has done and to imply or even assert that they were wrong.

So, overall, I'd say high school texts often make the US look good because that's what many school districts and parents want.  But college texts do not, in my opinion, do this.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team