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The country’s most popular American history textbook tarnishes 20th century conservative icons, inflates Democratic presidents to “superhuman levels” and has an anti-Trump bias, according to a report from a former Education Department official.
“American Pageant,” now in its 17th edition, is awash in liberal excesses, according to the report released Tuesday by The Education and Research Institute, a nonprofit chaired by Daniel Oliver, who served as an attorney in the Department of Education under President Ronald Reagan.
The institute notes that “American Pageant” is the bestselling American history textbook, has been read by millions of students over the past 60 years and is considered a favorite for advanced placement classes. However, the research group says the textbook suffers from liberal bias, pointing out that it:
⦁ Mentions Democratic presidents more frequently than Republican presidents.
⦁ Reduces President Nixon’s tenure to the Watergate scandal and downplays his “significant legislative achievements,” such as establishing the Environmental Protection Agency and opening U.S. relations with China.
⦁ Includes “environmentalists” and “Beatniks” in a section titled “Makers of America,” along with “Scientists” and “Suburbanites.”
“The problem is that the American Pageant is a thoroughly unreliable narrator of U.S. history,” says the report, which was written by Mr. Oliver, a former board member for National Review.
The report also notes an anti-Trump bias, saying the text refers to President Trump as a “New York City real estate mogul and reality-television personality” who “bullied, belittled, and bamboozled sixteen rivals to snag — some said hi-jack — the Republican nomination.”
The report also objects to the textbook’s language, which says Mr. Trump has a “cavalier disregard for the facts” and is a “prince of plutocrats.”
A spokesperson for the textbook’s publisher, Cengage, did not respond to a request for comment.
James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said in an email that the importance of textbooks is “often overstated.”
“A textbook is only a part of a student’s education in history,” Mr. Grossman wrote. “[A]nd it’s usually less important than the teacher.”
Mr. Grossman wrote that the textbook’s authors — David M. Kennedy, a former history professor from Stanford University, and Lizabeth Cohen, an American Studies professor at Harvard University — strive for “comprehensive coverage and synthesis of current scholarship.” He also noted that texts reflect, inevitably, the authors’ perspectives “to some degree.”
According to Cengage’s website, the American history textbook “enjoys a reputation as one of the most popular, effective and entertaining resources for learning about American history.” Cengage also touts the textbook’s “trademark wit.”
The Education and Research Institute’s analysis focuses on characterizations of presidents, pointing out that while the text calls Democrat Woodrow Wilson a “lover of peace,” while Republican Herbert Hoover is described as “shy, standoffish, and stiff.” Democrat Harry S. Truman is to have had a “down home authenticity,” but Republican Theodore Roosevelt was an “imperialistic busybody.”
While allegations of bias are rampant within liberal-leaning academia, historians generally have stood by their work. In 2018, many conservative media pounced on a tweet by a Minnesota high school student complaining that the book, “By the People: A History of the United States” — harbored anti-Trump sentiments.
In a post to HistoryNewsNetwork.org, the book’s author, historian James Fraser, wrote that the student was quoting from a passage detailing Hillary Clinton campaign supporters’ critique of candidate Trump and deliberately omitted that Mr. Fraser had included Trump supporters’ critique of Mrs. Clinton.
“I worry we could be entering a time in which students in some districts will read pro-Trump books and students in other districts will read anti-Trump books. We need to find ways to talk to each other across deep and real divides,” Mr. Fraser wrote.
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