NEW YORK — Many widely used American history texts are bland and deprive students of the richness of their past because publishers have knuckled under to interest groups and state authorities, a panel of experts concluded in a report released today.
Publishers, worried first and foremost about sales, are producing books marked by "cowardice, commercialism, condescension and crassness," said the 78-page report, "American History Textbooks: An Assessment of Quality."
The report, sponsored by the Educational Excellence Network based at Columbia Teachers College, said the blandness pervading history texts applies to both content and language, and is made worse by "readability scales," formulas commonly used by publishers to keep vocabulary and sentence structure simple.
Books 'Dumbed Down'
The report was one of the harshest indictments yet of publishers who have been repeatedly accused by critics of "dumbing down" their product.
It urged publishers to reduce the size of texts, eliminate glitzy but irrelevant illustrations, emphasize primary source materials and hire better writers.
Accusing publishers of bending too far to the demands of interest groups, the report said textbooks should stop acting as "cheerleaders for minorities and special causes at the expense of central stories that mark the nation's political and economic development."
A panel of professors, historians, editors, a public school teacher and a middle school principal reviewed 11 widely used American history texts.
Those favorably reviewed included "The United States Past to Present," an elementary text by D. C. Heath & Co.; "American History," by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., at the junior high level; and the high school text "A History of the United States," by Ginn & Co.
But the report blasted the elementary best-seller "The United States and Its Neighbors," published by Silver Burdett Co., as "lifeless, monotonic, without feeling."
Most junior high texts were harshly criticized.