Misinformed

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Today, where someone gets his/her news can reflect his/her political views: CNN is considered more liberal, Fox News is considered more conservative, and every single news outlet has some political bias. There is also “fake news,” and readers and viewers must decipher between what is trustworthy and what is not. So, when it comes to finding valid information, many people do not know where they can find it. Where can one find valuable and true information? Some people might look to textbooks; they contain hundreds of facts and details about hundreds of historical events. However, textbooks can be just as biased and skewed as many news channels. At the end of the day, the question remains: is any information truly trustworthy?

Two textbooks were recently analyzed by writers of The New York Times (nytimes.com) to find the biases and differences in each; one textbook was from California, a liberal state, and the other textbook was from Texas, a conservative state. The article, published Jan. 20 was entitled “Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories.” The two books analyzed are published by the same company, McGraw-Hill, and discuss the same events, but the information is customized for the state for which the books are written. The differences in the textbooks are possible because social standards, state laws, and feedback from panels differ from state to state, explains The New York Times. California’s panel is composed of educators, a board of education selected by the state, and members of a panel appointed by a Democrat, Jerry Brown. The New York Times also explained that Texas’ panel is appointed by a Republican state board of education, educators, parents, business representatives, a Christian pastor, and a politician.

Each textbook focuses on and delves into issues that reflect the state’s political views: California’s textbooks focus on the history of enslaved peoples, natives, and women; Texas’ textbooks are written to promote patriotism, influence Christianity, and celebrate the Founding Fathers. The New York Times explains that the textbooks contain both “subtle and extreme differences,” and the California textbooks wind up being longer due to all the personal excerpts that are included to reflect different viewpoints.

Textbooks are meant to be reliable, yet Global Studies Teacher Olga Zisel explained that she believes the information in textbooks is exaggerated and skewed “all the time.” In today’s world, where everyone has his/her own strong viewpoint, it is no secret that most information has a hint of opinion within it.

The New York Times analyzed the two textbooks and discovered that books described multiple movements and events differently. Kim Herrmann, a government teacher, believes the information differs in order for textbook companies to “sell their books.” Global Studies Teacher David Rabinowitz additionally shared his reasoning for the skewed information: “[There is misinformation] for sales [of the books] and [so companies] make money.  Public education has become a booming financial business over the past 20 years.” Textbook companies make a lot of money, even if their books contain information that is not one hundred percent accurate. Since the information is presented in a way to please the audience of the state, there is a tedious process to create a published textbook. The New York Times explains the four steps it takes to publish a McGraw-Hill textbook. First, authors, usually academics, write a national version of the text. This version is filled with general details and facts. Second, “Publishers customize the books for states and large districts to meet local standards, often without input from the original authors.” After that, the state and school districts have “textbook reviewers” who edit and fix the information even more. Finally, publishers make final revisions on the text and sell them to districts in their state; therefore, the information winds up being filled with opinions.

The United States has a history that is interesting as well as controversial. California’s textbooks tell the story of the history of the United States much differently than Texas does. For example, California’s textbook holds an explanation for white resistance to black progress: “Movements of some white Americans from cities to suburbs was driven by a desire to get away from more culturally diverse neighborhoods.” The textbook also explains that many blacks did not have access to suburbs and that whites wanted to escape the “crime and congestion” of the cities. The New York Times shares that Texas does not explain this at all. Reconstruction is a controversial period of time in the United States; therefore, the two textbooks write about the event in contrasting ways. California’s textbook explains that whites resisted Reconstruction because they did not want the blacks to “have more rights.”  The New York Times shares that Texas textbooks portray the idea that reform costs money, so there had to be higher taxes; the Texas book does mention housing discrimination but provides this reasoning for it. Both books claim that lynching was unjust; however, California’s textbook states that lynching occurred to decrease the standing and power of blacks. Another highly debated issue in America is nativism and immigration. While explaining this topic, California’s textbook shares an account of an immigrant who has traveled to America. On the other hand, Texas shares the story of a border patrol agent: “[The agent] discusses his concerns about drug trafficking and says, ‘If you open the border wide up, you’re going to invite political and social upheaval.’” Along with these ideas, gender and sexuality are written about, but only in California textbooks. Within California’s textbooks, the idea that many LGBTQ Native Americans were not recognized as eligible citizens to receive a plot of land from the Dawes Act (an act where natives received land) is presented. Many other specific events regarding sexuality and gender are discussed in California’s textbooks. Texas does not recognize the many ways the government tried to “Americanize natives,” shares The New York Times. Explaining the history of big business is approached differently in each textbook. California focuses on the way big businesses have altered the environment. In contrast, Texas “celebrates the leaders and entrepreneurs of big businesses,” The New York Times reports. These are only a select few instances that show the differences within these textbooks. Every chapter and every page within the textbooks hold ideals that are specific to the state for which it was written.

The differences are sometimes predictable, and Zisel has noticed differences while she has been teaching: “I’ve noticed that in the textbook we use in New York, when describing human evolution, it is discussed as a fact that has occurred over the course of millions of years.  Australopithecines evolved into homo habilis, who evolved into homo erectus, who evolved into the different types of Homo sapiens.  I didn’t see this in Southern books with my own eyes, but I do remember reading an article (I think it was in Newsweek) a while back, on how a textbook in the South emphasized that evolution is still considered a very ‘controversial theory.’ Southern states are generally more Christian and conservative, whereas New York tends to be more liberal, so I definitely see that discrepancy in the situation of evolution.” Herrmann elaborated, stating that she believes that liberal states, like California, will have more diversity represented in the curriculum, while conservative states, like Texas, will have a curriculum and textbooks that are more traditional and have more traditional roles and rules. Finally, Rabinowitz feels that textbooks “appeal to their potential customers,” so he shared some potential differences: “Besides our regional differences within our union, our states can be 50 separate entities regarding social mentality.  California, being as progressive as it is, will have different bias or point-of-view on the 1960s Civil Rights movement than a Southeastern state might.” Since teachers recognize differences, and it is up to them to explain history in a way that removes all bias and includes all details and facts.

When researching, it is important to be aware of the accuracy of information. California shares information that has progressive views, while Texas has information within its textbooks that has more historic ideals. Though the information might not be completely made up, it was written by someone with opinionated political and social views. Textbooks are written to inform and teach students and sometimes adults. As time goes on, one thing remains: everyone will have an opinion, and this opinion will be reflected in most writing and news.