Biased Textbooks Are Just Part of the Public School Curriculum Wars

To reduce conflict over classroom lessons, let people choose their kids’ education.


When you put political officials in charge of education, you get politicized education. That point was made recently in an investigation conducted by New York Times correspondent Dana Goldstein into the ideological customization of textbooks for the numerous public schools of California and Texas. Her article is eye-opening, but it's only the most recent evidence that the line between education and indoctrination is often blurry when government institutions present the world to the children under their controlwith conflict as an inevitable result.

"The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation's deepest partisan divides," Goldstein writes.

Side-by-side comparison of the eight textbooks Goldstein examines, all published since 2016, reveal very different takes on hot-button issues including immigration, race relations, sexuality, self-defense rights, and economics.

Interpretations of the Civil War and its aftermath remain divisive:

Southern whites resisted Reconstruction, according to a McGraw-Hill textbook, because they 'did not want African-Americans to have more rights.' But the Texas edition offers an additional reason: Reforms cost money, and that meant higher taxes.

Whole paragraphs on redlining and restrictive deeds appear only in the California editions of textbooks, partly as a result of different state standards.

Presentations of free markets and private enterprise are also different in textbooks crafted for different states:

Texas policymakers feel strongly about giving students a positive view of the American economy; since 1995, state law has required that high school economics courses offer an 'emphasis on the free enterprise system and its benefits.' That emphasis seems to have made its way into the history curriculum as well.

California's curriculum materials, by contrast, sometimes read like a brief from a Bernie Sanders rally. 'The yawning gap between the haves and have-nots and what is to be done about it is one of the great questions of this time,' says the state's 2016 social studies framework.

California and Texas get customized and very differently spun versions of the same publications because they are large markets with centralized state panels that approve textbook acquisitions. As you would expect, the California panel leans left and the Texas panel leans right.

Given how eye-opening the Times investigation is, it's ironic that a project by the same newspaper now features in debates over politicized education.

"The 1619 Project—The New York Times Magazine's much vaunted series of essays about the introduction of African slavery to the Americas—will now be taught in K-12 schools around the country," Reason's Robby Soave noted just days ago. "Many historians, though, have questioned The 1619 Project's accuracy. Five of them penned a letter to The New York Times expressing dismay 'at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.'"

Billed as corrective to the long-time glossing-over in American classrooms of the legacy of slavery, The 1619 project tacks far in the other direction, portraying the United States as irreparably stained by racism and the practice of human bondage, and free market economics as rooted in plantation slavery.

"Mandating the use of The 1619 Project in K-12 curricula is at best premature until these issues are resolved and the Times makes a good faith effort to answer its critics," economic historian Phil Magness told Soave.

The curriculum debates of the moment are only the latest manifestation of years-long disagreements over how the world should be presented to students in the public schools.

"The Texas State Board of Education adopted a social studies and history curriculum Friday that amends or waters down the teaching of the civil rights movement, religious freedoms, America's relationship with the U.N. and hundreds of other items," CBS reported in 2010.

Tucson, Arizona public schools sparred with critics for years over a controversial ethnic studies program in a battle that presaged a similar debate in California.

Michigan officials divided over partisan lines when it came to issues including the question of whether students should be taught the U.S. is a "democracy" or a "republic."

And, famously, battles between classroom advocates of creationism and those of evolutionary theory dragged on for decades, starting at least as long ago as the 1925 Scopes Trial. Lost in most reports about that courtroom drama is that the textbook at issue contained not just now-widely accepted ideas about the natural emergence of humanity, but also some truly awful eugenics nonsense presented as fact.

It's true that people can differ over interpretations of the world around us without the intervention of government officials—and can do a bad job of it entirely free of bureaucratic directives. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is the go-to alternative to history textbooks for lefties. But it's widely criticized by mainstream educators as at least as spun as—and often less accurate than—many of the works it seeks to counter. And private schools can teach nonsense as readily as public schools; if you want your kids to learn creationism today, plenty of fundamentalist institutions are available to do the job.

But Zinn's estate offers his take on the world primarily to private buyers who want an alternative to official texts. And church-run schools aren't subsidized by advocates of evolutionary theory—they charge willing parents the price of admission.

By contrast, government officials with control over public schools and the textbooks they use impose their specific visions of "truth" from the top down on the willing and unwilling alike. Their intent is to ensure that approved takes are fed to all of those young voters of the future. That's a guaranteed recipe for conflict over what's taught. Such disputes are so common, in fact, that the Cato Institute tracks them in their multitude on its Public Schooling Battle Map.

If you're looking for a complete fix for biased lessons, it probably doesn't exist. School choice is no guarantee that children will learn only accurate information, let alone that they'll be taught to critically analyze their lessons and accept no source as the final word. No approach is going to reach that high a standard.

But when families choose education options that suit them, and avoid those that don't, there's much less reason to fight over what's taught in the classroom. There's even a better chance for diverse opinions to flourish and be debated in settings where the stakes are lower.

Don't worry, we'll still find plenty of other reasons to argue.

NEXT: House Moves To Give Homeland Security More Power To Snoop

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Many historians, though, have questioned The 1619 Project’s accuracy”

    Well, in my book, Pointing out specific lies is a bit more than “questioning”.

    1. What are the “lies?”

      I’m kidding — we both know you’re bullshtting.

  2. HEY! These kids are not going to brainwash themselves.

  3. “To reduce conflict over classroom lessons, let people choose their kids’ education.”

    What? These boomer rubes can’t even be trusted to vote correctly, much less determine their kids curriculum.

    1. To be fair, it’s mostly middle-aged Gen-Xers driving a lot of this now.

      1. Sad, but true.

  4. My kids are in Texas public schools. They don’t really seem to use textbooks anymore.

    And the examples given above are largely distinctions without a difference. The teacher and the classmates will have a much larger impact than a textbook passage that will be forgotten before they finish reading it.

    1. Yes, I would be interested to know what spin the actual teachers are putting on events, or if they’re trying to be even-handed.

      I have my own hypotheses, but I’d be happy to hear from those with more direct experience.

      1. Put cameras in the classroooms. I’m sure the teachers unions would not object to Big Brotherismer Sisterismer Siblingism.

        1. I thought that is why they have like 3 admins for every teacher.

      2. or if they’re trying to be even-handed

        As a general rule, no.

      3. My $0.02:

        1. It’s less any particular teacher and more any given district. There are left, right, and center teachers all over the place. Who gets to propagandize and spout ideology and who gets hammered back down is a factor of how much shit the community generates and how much the district or schoolboard is willing to take.
        2. Teachers, especially today, have a very narrow window into a child’s life and upbringing. Barring some life changing event, the friends and family are going to have a disparate impact. Even teachers freely admit/lament that you can only have so much effect 1-8 hrs. a day for 2/3 of a year.
        3. Tablets haven’t changed everything but they’ve been ground-breaking. Teachers no longer generate content for learning, they supervise the consumption of content. A whacko leftist teacher can be as whacko as she likes, Schoology, Duolingo, Brainpop, Khan Academy, etc. still have to teach economics in a fact-oriented neutral manner to appeal to the broadest audience.

        1. There are left, right, and center teachers all over the place. Who gets to propagandize and spout ideology and who gets hammered back down is a factor of how much shit the community generates and how much the district or schoolboard is willing to take.

          ^ This.

          In the SF Bay Area, “biased” = “not Progressive.”

    2. The teacher and the classmates will have a much larger impact than a textbook passage that will be forgotten before they finish reading it.

      Yup. IL schoolbooks had passages about our historic black President, all the work he did to help the poor, and how good a President he was (before his second term). Jokes from first grade they remember, they have no recollection about reading about Pres. Obama helping the poor.

      1. Do they remember signing hymns to Him and glorifying His Name?

        Barack Hussein Obama, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm.

        1. I didn’t sit down to do the math, but I got the impression that the ‘help the poor’ theme was because the material was actually written prior to his victory. They had to guess at something that children could understand and consume, people couldn’t object to intrinsically, and, drawing on his history as a community organizer, he might actually do.

  5. “Billed as corrective to the long-time glossing-over in American classrooms of the legacy of slavery”

    I suppose that if you just beamed in from Planet Zork, you might think that, but even back in – never mind when – my all-white English class was doing dramatic readings of A Raisin in the Sun.

    1. And my history class (which I think may have had some actual black students in it) did Brown v. Board and the civil rights movement.

    2. exactly. “glossing over of slavery”? Please. you might as well say that US History classes are glossing over Hiroshima. (we spent multiple weeks on Hiroshima when I was in high school)

    3. I suppose that if you just beamed in from Planet Zork

      My summer cottage overlooks Flood Control Dam #5.

      1. See what awful jokes Grue out of my comment?

    4. When I was in high school in the ’70s we did that too, although we referred to it (outside of class) as A Prune in the Moon.

  6. Get rid of public schools. Problem solved.

    1. An interesting idea but how practical is this idea. This site talk a lot about school choice, but what are the real limits for school choice? Could we really turn the entire public education system over to private schools?

      1. Could we really turn the entire public education system over to private schools?


      2. Yes. It wouldn’t even be that difficult to implement – just politically impossible to actually pass.

        1. I disagree with the idea that it would be easy. I agree it is impossible to pass. The majority of students in the US attend public schools and most of those people are satisfied with their schools. In fact the public schools in an area are a strong selling point for many houses. While school chose gets headline it is still a minority of students.

  7. Discuss this article on Quora:

    Quora is a vibrant community where everyone must use their real names and a “be nice, be respectful” policy is strictly enforced.

    1. You’re not the boss of me!

    2. And if you post, say, factual historical evidence of Communist mass murder, imperialism or despotism in direct rebuttal to the legions of screeching totalitarians who overrun the site, you’ll be politely banned from Quora forever.

      1. Well cytotoxic is a Canadian Marxist piece of subhuman shit so you can see why he was attracted to the platform. Don’t forget to report his post as spam. This is literally no different from the bots.

    3. Non-anonymous discussion suppresses free speech and always results in low quality, biased, dishonest, and uncivil discourse.

      1. Publius likes this comment.

    4. You been pimping that place for months; flagged, pimp.

  8. “if you want your kids to learn creationism today, plenty of fundamentalist institutions are available to do the job.”

    Speaking of spin – would it not have sufficed to call the private institutions ‘religious’ instead? ‘Fundamentalist’ has further connotations to it, I’m not convinced that all religious schools that happen to teach creationism as part of their religious beliefs qualify.

    1. Blatantly rejecting all reality because you want future generations to grow up believing the asinine fairy tales that were beaten into you is utterly, utterly fundamentalist.

      If that bothers you, then maybe exercise more critical thought in your beliefs.

      1. What part of the Christian creation myth that’s taught in every Catholic school in America alongside biological evolution is in any way a rejection of “all reality”? Because it suggests theistic guidance rather than random selection? Is that remarkably different from punctuated equilibrium and directed panspermia hypotheses? Or do you actually think that the 2nd grade diagram you saw of the fish turning into the hominid is actually representative of the state of evolutionary biology?

        Maybe exercise more critical thought before you step all over your own dick because you’re a fucking halfwit that’s ignorant of both theology and science.

        1. Yes, this! We need more Biblical Literalism in the classroom!

          God COMMANDS us to kill EVERYONE!

          Our that them thar VALUES of society outta come from that them thar HOLY BIBLE, and if ya read it right, it actually says that God wants us to KILL EVERYBODY!!! Follow me through now: No one is righteous, NONE (Romans 3:10). Therefore, ALL must have done at least one thing bad, since they’d be righteous, had they never done anything bad. Well, maybe they haven’t actually DONE evil, maybe they THOUGHT something bad (Matt. 5:28, thoughts can be sins). In any case, they must’ve broken SOME commandment, in thinking or acting, or else they’d be righteous. James 2:10 tells us that if we’ve broken ANY commandment, we broke them ALL. Now we can’t weasel out of this by saying that the New Testament has replaced the Old Testament, because Christ said that he’s come to fulfill the old law, not to destroy it (Matt. 5:17). So we MUST conclude that all are guilty of everything. And the Old Testament lists many capital offenses! There’s working on Sunday. There’s also making sacrifices to, or worshipping, the wrong God (Exodus 22:20, Deut. 17:2-5), or even showing contempt for the Lord’s priests or judges (Deut. 17:12). All are guilty of everything, including the capital offenses. OK, so now we’re finally there… God’s Word COMMANDS us such that we’ve got to kill EVERYBODY!!!

          (I am still looking for that special exception clause for me & my friends & family… I am sure I will find it soon!)

          1. “And the Old Testament lists many capital offenses! There’s working on Sunday.“

            Wrong day there SQRLSY.

            And there is no record of anyone having been executed for doing so.

            1. OK then, Sabbath not Sunday… A hair-splitting, lawyer’s difference.

              Numbers 15:32-36 New King James Version (NKJV)
              Penalty for Violating the Sabbath
              32 Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 34 They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him.

              35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.

            2. Also I wonder, had this nameless man NOT been some kind of rules-disregarding, trouble-making, no-account bum, and had been, instead, a favored friend, nephew, or treasured business partner of Moses and of Aaron… If “The Lord” wouldn’t perhaps have whispered something else in Moses’s ear?

        2. What part of the Christian creation myth that’s taught in every Catholic school in America alongside biological evolution

          I went to Catholic school from 1st through 8th grade. We read Genesis in religion class but in biology/life sciences we learned evolution. They were not taught alongside each other. This was in the 90s, so things may have changed or been different and other schools.

          But theistic evolution (the official position of the Catholic church on the matter) is quite distinct from creationism as the term is commonly used.

          1. The Catholic Church has officially accepted both evolution and the Big Bang Theory for a long time now.

            As I noted in a different comment, St. Augustine goes on at some length, writing in the late fourth century, about how the creation account in Genesis is obviously metaphorical.

            As Augustine himself points out, what even is a day before there’s any such thing as the sky, let alone sun and moon?

            And even ancient readers noticed that Man and Woman get created at the end of Genesis 1 only to be created again in Genesis 2.

            1. The Catholic Church has “accepted” the Big Bang Theory? It would be more accurate to say that the Big Bang Theory was Catholic in its origins, as a hypothesis propounded by Catholic priest Georges Lemaître. (The theory was resisted by some people precisely because it conformed too nicely to Catholic doctrine about how the universe had a beginning rather than existing eternally.)

        3. Childish, superstitious slack-jaws arguing for nonsense-teaching, science-suppressing schools — and expecting taxpayers to fund them — are among my favorite culture war casualties.

          Choose reason. Every time.

          Or leave the public affairs debates to the reality-based adults.

          1. Now go confront some indians, ‘scuse me, Native American First People Noble Savages, and tell them THEIR fundamentalist creation myths are also ignorant bullshit.

            1. If it weren’t for double standards, they’d have no standards at all.

              Our team has “lived experience” and “sacred traditions” your team has merely anecdotal evidence and fairy tales.

    2. I’m not convinced that all religious schools that happen to teach creationism as part of their religious beliefs qualify

      I think that depends how you define “creationism.”

      Are you teaching ‘intelligent design’ or ‘guided evolution?’ Not fundamentalist.

      Are you teaching that humanity was created when a fellow named Yahweh strolled through a garden and breathed on some mud as the literal truth (which even St. Augustine said was retarded)? Fundamentalist.

    3. Not all religious schools or Christian denominations teach/believe that the story of creation in Genesis is literally true. That is what is commonly meant by creationism. So I think using the term “religious” here is actually too broad. I suppose you could use the term “creation fundamentalists” to make clear that you are focusing on one aspect of the Bible, but the broader term “fundamentalist” seems to work just fine to me.

  9. “Editing” of texts included in the curriculum is also not new. My father taught high-school English in the early ’60’s, and noted the deletion of “anti-war” voices in Shakespeare (not that there are many of them).

    1. They removed Falstaff?

  10. I’m old enough to have gone to a biased school before the bias was even recognized – we were forced to learn the White Man’s Euro-centric math and science and English, their “facts” and “logic” and “reasoning”, without ever being aware that there were other ways of knowing. And some of us were even given bad grades for failing to learn these things with no consideration whatsoever for what this might do to our self-esteem or the inherent unfairness of applying objective standards to a disparate group regardless of race or nationality, immigration status or gender identity. How I survived such childhood trauma is beyond me.

    1. If I had the time, I’d dig it up. There’s footage on Youtube of the Evergreen debacle, where a student is actually demanding that a professor stop using logic in his arguments.

  11. (takes a long drag off cigarette. Gives thousand yard stare)

    We lost a lot of good men in the curriculum wars. Sometimes I think they were the lucky ones.

    1. I sat on a state curriculum board… the most dangerous thing that happened was a paper cut. I do like your characterization better, though.

      1. It’s in and from the warped minds of the kids downstream where the carnage manifests

  12. I’m so glad I teach chemistry. I love factual information with no needed editorializing (100 degrees Celcius is the White Man’s boiling point!). Same applies to classical mathematics (3 is the square root of 9? Nobody consulted us!)

    1. (100 degrees Celcius is the White Man’s boiling point!)

      What’s the boiling point for a hispanic? Asking for a friend.

      *hides cooking utensils*

      1. I’d assume about the same… they boil at the same temperature as everyone else, at least according to Jeffery Dahmer’s cookbook.

      2. 100 degrees Jalapenos.

    2. The Tibetan boiling point is significantly less than 100 degrees. So is the Nepalese boiling point. The Bolivian boiling point!

      Keep your racist chemistry out of our schools!!!!!

    3. I love factual information with no needed editorializing (100 degrees Celcius is the White Man’s boiling point!).

      The periodic table… the pinnacle of Russian propaganda.

      1. What’s so periodic about tables anyway?

        1. Real answer: the properties repeat as you move through it by increasing atomic number
          Not-so-real answer: I get my period just staring at it longingly.

  13. Tucille you and Sullum are the only guys worth a damn here anymore.

  14. Who she?

  15. WRONG. Remember, “He who pays the piper picks the tune.” It is the taxpayer, including the childfree especially, who pay the piper. We should in no way allow the breeders to pick the tune. We need to rid ourselves of the corrupt “parent-teacher” association and put a “property-taxpayer” association in control.

  16. The bigots are changing society in their image.

    When your worldview won’t consider counter arguments, you’re a bigot.

    If you have to lie because you can’t accept what the truth means, you’re a bigot.

    Lying to kids in school, teaching false narratives, is the work of bigots.

    1. The stormfag speaks the truth, and projects, all at the same time.

    2. Rob Misek
      January.30.2020 at 6:52 pm
      “The bigots are changing society in their image.”

      We know you’re trying scumbag bigot, but no one here is buying your lies.
      Crawl back under that rock.

    3. Not one shred of physical evidence.

      Only paid and coerced testimony.

      It’s a crime to study and share the evidence in all nations where the events allegedly took place.

      Yet the false narrative is taught and people are coerced to accept it.

      The joooos do hold the record.

  17. Once upon a time, the Anchorage school district had an array of school choices open to all local families. Besides “regular” schools they had foreign language immersion schools, back to basic paleo schools, touchy-feely progressive method schools, and probably other variations I forgot. Seemed to work pretty well, and satisfy a varied clientele.

  18. This is a spectacularly dishonest article. While it tries to do a “bothsides” critique of California and Texas, the Times article makes it clear that Texas’ “history” is ideologically motivated nonsense.

  19. I make a big amount online work . How ??? Just u can done also with this site and u can do it Easily 2 step one is open link next is Click on Tech so u can done Easily now u can do it also here..>>> Click it here  

  20. “Many historians, though, have questioned The 1619 Project’s accuracy”

  21. Let people choose?

    There is no constraint on choice. You can teach your kids any crap you want. If the market offers instruction in some pile of crap that you want your kids to learn, have at it.

    But wait, you want not only the choice but some of that sweet sweet government money in order to help facilitate that choice?

    If you do, then you shouldn’t have any objection to those that want sweet sweet government money for health care, or to major in gender studies, or for various crony pet projects.

    Biased textbooks may be just part of public schools. But nothing about diverting government money to churches is going to make textbooks any less biased. Probably more of the textbooks used will be biased after public schools are shut down, since most private schools are religious or religious-like.

    Future libertarians might not like the future with a majority population of religiously educated masses.

  22. The story of Babi Yar is a popular lesson in Jewish schools described as the single largest event of the holocaust.

    The lesson is that between 30,000 and 100,000 Jews were taken to a ravine in Ukraine where they were killed.

    The story is told by one Jewish
    survivor, Dina Pronicheva, an actress who testified that she was forced to strip naked and marched to the edge of the ravine. When the firing squad shot, she jumped into the ravine and played dead. After being covered by thousands of bodies and tons of earth she dug herself out, unscathed, when the coast was clear and escaped to tell the story.

    They were stripped naked to leave no evidence.

    She is apparently the only person in history to successfully perform a matrix bullet dodge at a firing squad.

    The soldier aiming point blank at her never noticed her escape. Never walked a few steps to the edge of the ravine to finish her off.

    Naked she had no tools to dig herself out from under 30,000 bodies and tons of dirt.

    Only after the deed was done, the nazis realized that so many bullet ridden bodies were evidence oops. So they brought more Jews and millions of cubic feet of firewood to dig them up, cremate them and scatter their ashes in surrounding fields.

    There has been no forensic investigation at the site. None of the bullets allegedly burned with the bodies have been recovered. Not one shred of physical evidence of this has ever been found.

    There are aerial photographs of the area at the time but they don’t show any evidence of the narrative, no people, no equipment, no firewood, no moved earth, no tracks of any kind.

    Simply stating these facts is a crime in Ukraine where the Babi Yar narrative is taught to students.

    1. The same principles in propaganda apply to public relations.

      I’m amazed at the stupidity of some consumer advertising.

      Either people don’t do critical thinking or there’s some formula in propaganda that shits it off.

      People not wanting to be fooled would be wise to learn to defend against it.

    2. I wonder if most people are stupid because of a physical condition or because they don’t care to want to be smart.

      I pray for the intelligence to recognize reality, truth.

      My greatest worry regarding death is that we may be reIncarnated randomly or by some dipshit god, and that I’ll come back as stupid as you are now.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.