Social Studies and History Texts

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 546

Issues such as what constitutes patriotism were early sources of contention. After the U.S. Civil War book publishers anxious to sell history texts often created two versions: one for the North and one for the South, each with a different slant on the war. Following World War I, all that was un-American became a central focus of censorship. In 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars fought for the elimination of all textbooks they deemed unpatriotic. The mayor of Chicago, William Hart Thompson, claimed that the discussions of British democracy, ideas, and achievements in textbooks made America look poor by comparison.

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To make history more interesting and realistic, Professor Harold Rugg began publishing a series of texts on American society that dealt with such controversial issues as unemployment, immigration, class structure, and the effects of industrialization on everyday life in 1939. Widely acclaimed by educators, his books were used by half of the nation’s school districts until they were attacked as socialist by the Advertising Federation of America, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the right-wing Hearst newspaper chain. The American Legion published a pamphlet, Treason in the Textbooks, charging that the books were telling students that the American way of life had failed. The texts were soon removed from schools and the series ended.

During the Red Scare era of the 1950’s the primary concern of censors was communist infiltration in public education. The Soviet Union had become aggressive, communists had taken over China, America was involved in the Korean War, and Senator Joseph McCarthy was accusing intellectuals, politicians, artists, and clergy of being communist sympathizers. In 1949 the Sons of the American Revolution published a booklet called A Bill of Grievances charging that public schools were being converted by communist front organizations into agencies to disseminate radical propaganda to students.

During this period a retired English professor, Merrill E. Root, a liberal Quaker turned radical right, wrote a pamphlet, Darkness at Noon in American Colleges, in which he charged that such institutions were communist factories turning out robot collectivists. This was followed by Collectivism on the Campus (1954) and Brainwashing in the High Schools (1958), which made him a national leader in the assault on public education. Communism encompassed many perceived evils: racial integration, taxation, social security, unions, socialized medicine, fluoridation of water, the United Nations, and attempts at international cooperation.

Impressed by Root’s book, the Daughters of the American Revolution published in 1961 Textbook Study, a pamphlet that blacklisted 170 social studies books for being subversive. Their objections included a description of the United States as a “democracy” rather than a “republic,” emphasis on the Bill of Rights rather than the basic Constitution, discussion of the United Nations and international relations, pictures of slum areas and Great Depression-era unemployment lines, photographs of mushrooming nuclear bombs, too much realistic literature, and too many labor and folk songs.

A high school civics textbook called American Government, written and revised annually by Frank Magruder beginning in 1917 and, after Magruder’s death in 1949, by William McClenaghan, was assailed by another popular critic, Lucille Cardin Crain, who claimed the book’s purpose was to undermine students’ belief in the efficacy of capitalism. Attacks by Crain and other conservative critics led to the book’s temporary removal from schools in Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas.

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