How To Evaluate Your Child's Textbooks

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Textbooks are important classroom tools. Thus, it is important for parents to be familiar with what their children are being exposed to in their textbooks. 

This report will focus on how to evaluate your child's textbooks so you can accomplish four things: (1) you can have better discussions with your child about what he is learning; (2) you can add to what may be missing in the textbook; (3) you can teach your child discernment by recognizing bias; (4) you can, if necessary, bring a textbook's shortcomings to the attention of the teacher, administration, or school board for replacement with a better book. 

This report primarily focuses on helping you with your own child's education. There is a difference between evaluating a textbook to better discuss it with your child (concerning your Christianity), and using that exact same analysis for a critique to be presented to school officials. For your own child, you will want to add more explicitly Christian themes, doctrine, examples, and heroes. However, many - but not all - shortcomings you detect in a textbook (using your Christian perspective) can be translated into a conservative critique of the book for school officials. 

The Problem

The concerns you may face with your child's textbook will generally fall into two broad categories: what is in the book, and what is left out of the book. Let's first look at problems you may encounter with what is in your child's textbook. 

According to Educational Research Analysts, many textbooks seek to change students' beliefs about society rather than merely give factual knowledge, basic skills, and cultural heritage. There are several indicators of the bias toward liberal social change. A few of the indicators are:

  • Analysis of the personal and familial problems of the child.
  • Presenting life as a problem in sociology to be solved by government bureaucrats and social science experts.
  • Treating all moral questions as open, relative, and debatable.
  • Portraying total equality as an absolute value.
  • Consistently one-sided presentations of current political controversies.
  • An overemphasis on the importance of internationalism at the expense of nationalism.
  • The inevitability of change and the clich√© that all change is good.
  • The inevitability of individual and community dependence on government in all aspects of life.
  • Society's collective guilt for human problems.
  • Evolution taught as fact.
  • Stories of violence and immorality presented as common experiences of the typical person.
  • Unfair portrayals of Christians and church-goers as authoritarian, cruel, and intolerant.
  • Portraying tolerance (meaning the absence of judgment) as the highest virtue.(1)

You will find these, and other biases in a poorly written textbook, falling into three main categories: 

(1) Liberal assumptions made by the authors. 

(2) Bias favoring liberal views, people, and activities. 

(3) Presenting opinion as fact. 

Liberal Assumptions

Everyone has biases. It is very difficult to write about a topic without projecting a bias. Bias is reflected both in what you choose to write about and how you write about it. For instance, in one elementary U.S. history textbook the authors write: 

"George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson had seen government as a noble calling. John F. Kennedy made outstanding people eager to work in Washington. But both Presidents Carter and Reagan talked about government as if it were a bad thing, and that made some people reluctant to work for the government. Which [sic] was harmful, because, like it or not, we need big government. We are a big nation. But we need big government that is efficient and considerate of our needs."(2) 

While this paragraph reflects all three major categories of bias, it is a good example of liberal assumptions made by the authors. For instance, they assume that outstanding people were not eager to work for Presidents Carter or Reagan. The authors assume that only Kennedy made outstanding people eager to work in government. 

The authors' assumption about big government is evidenced by the interchanging of the term "big government" as a noun with the idea that we need a big government. "Big government" generally describes the reach of government more than its mere size. Certainly the United States, with over 250 million people, has to have a government that is large. But that is different from what the authors imply with the term big government. They also assume that the problem with government is not its reach but its efficiency and consideration. Many conservatives, however, would argue that the size (or reach) of the government is the problem. For instance, members of the National Rifle Association would argue that we don't need more efficient administration of gun control. They would argue against gun control. Many conservative landowners would argue that we don't need more efficient application of laws regarding wetlands; they would argue that we don't need government intruding on their land at all. 

The textbook, Rise of the American Nation, gives us an example of liberal assumptions leading to the omission of important information. The book contains a chronological listing of 450 important events in American history. However, the authors list only three events (less than one percent) related to religion: The Pilgrims' arrival in 1620; Maryland's Toleration Act of 1649; and, the Mormons moving to Salt Lake City in 1847. There is no inclusion of the Second Great Awakening of the 1830's and 1840's; the Pentecostal movement from 1880-1910; the rise of the fundamentalist and evangelical movement in the 20th century; the black church's importance in the civil rights movement; the Jesus movement of the 1960's and the Born-Again fervor of the 1970's. 

We can only conclude that the authors assumed the rich and vibrant religious activity throughout our nation's history was not all that important. It is fair to say that they did not regard it as important as the establishment of the Department of Transportation in 1966 which did make their list of important events in America's history. 

Evaluation Tip: An assumption is something taken for granted. When reading your child's textbook, ask yourself: What is the author taking for granted when he makes this statement? 

Bias Favoring Liberal Views, People, and Activities 

Bias simply means an inclination or preference for something. When it comes to textbooks, you may find ample examples for a bias toward such things as feminism and liberal environmentalism, and a bias against business, religion, and patriotism. 

The bias is often seen in the lack of emphasis or balance in a book. For instance, in Dr. Vitz's study of textbooks containing short stories for elementary reading, he found a lack of patriotic stories, a lack of support for business, and a pro-feminist bent. 

For instance, out of 670 stories contained in twenty-two textbooks, he found only five stories with any patriotic theme. Of those five stories, three were about the same event - the ride of Sybil Ludington in 1777 when she dressed as a man and warned farmers of a British threat. Vitz comments, "This story is in many respects a feminist piece and it has little of a specifically patriotic theme."(4) None of the books contained any stories about Nathan Hale, Patrick Henry, Daniel Boone, or Paul Revere's ride. 

Science lessons are plagued with environmental propaganda. Propagandizing lessons sometimes end with a political action activity suggested in the name of applying the learning. Sometimes the children are urged to write to a government official or the head of a corporation to express their concern on an environmental issue. 

"There's a lot of junk that works itself into the curriculum," admits John Padalino, head of the National Science Teachers Association's task force on environmental education. According to Education Week, common errors found in environmental lessons include: 

* Condemnation of internal-combustion engines as having worsened the environment. But just in the area of cultivation, the engine has allowed for more efficient farming and contributed to the reforestation of many farmlands. 

* School environmental texts routinely scare students with misinformation about "global warming." What is often not taught to children is that atmospheric temperatures are cyclical and that water vapor is a bigger cause of the "greenhouse" effect than is man-produced carbon dioxide. 

* Students are often led by environmental propaganda to believe that air quality poses greater risks today than ever before. The fact is, air quality has significantly improved over past decades. 

* Some materials still teach students that the aerosol deodorant, hair spray, and paint they use contain chlorofluorocarbons that damage the ozone layer. The fact is, CFCs have not been used in the United States since 1978.(5) 

Evaluation Tip: While reading the textbook, look carefully to see if the values "message" (not just the factual message) favors a liberal perspective. Also, be aware that while having a balance of viewpoints on moral issues may be "fair" in giving equal time, there are certain moral messages that students should not give equal time to. For instance, listing a variety of sexual lifestyles may send the unspoken message that heterosexuality is no better than any other, even though the text did not say that explicitly. 

Presenting Opinion as Fact

An opinion is a belief held with confidence but not substantiated by direct proof or knowledge. 

Opinions can make writing interesting to read and can probably never (and probably should never) be eradicated from textbooks. But to teach your child discernment you will need to teach him to distinguish between opinion and fact. 

For instance, in A History of US the authors write: 

"At Jimmy Carter's inaugural, almost all the events were open to the public, and most of them were free. Reagan's inauguration was by invitation only, and the invitations were expensive. One inauguration planner said it was all about 'class and dignity.' Harry Truman would have been horrified, but many Americans seemed awed by the glitter and glamour."(6) 

The authors simply don't know how Harry Truman would have felt. 

Evaluation Tip: To distinguish between opinion and fact as you read a textbook, ask yourself: Is what the author is saying verifiable by objective facts? 

Guilty of Omission 

When reading your child's textbook, you should also ask yourself what the authors could have included from a conservative or Christian perspective that they did not include. You may find the following list helpful for seeing what may be conspicuously absent:(7)

  • Themes of loyalty, faith, sacrifice, and unselfishness.
  • Examples of self-reliance, individuality, and pride in achievement.
  • Themes of freedom and liberty.
  • Attachment to home, family, and country.
  • Limits to the power of government.
  • Religious and cultural traditions.
  • Individual responsibility.
  • Scientific evidence for creation (or a mention of the flaws in the theory of evolution).
  • A strong stance on moral behavior.
  • Examples of motherhood and homemaking.

What You Can Do With Your Child

1. Read the textbook yourself. Read your child's or get an extra copy from the teacher. If the teacher doesn't have an extra copy, try the school district warehouse of materials. You may even want to buy a copy from the publisher. As you read the book, keep in mind the problems listed on pages one and two of this report and ask yourself the following:

  • What is omitted from the text that you think should be there?
  • What assumptions is the author making about a given topic?
  • Do you detect a bias in the language used and/or in what is emphasized?
  • Is opinion presented as fact?

Remember to keep passages in context. Context can give rise to greater concern or it can explain a sentence or passage that otherwise would be objectionable. This doesn't mean you can't discuss it with your child. It means you maintain integrity in your evaluation. 

2. Discuss regularly with your child what he is reading. There is no substitute for creating an on-going dialog with your child about what he is exposed to. It helps you understand how he is perceiving what he reads and it gives you opportunity to teach him discerning skills. 

3. Find other sources for conservative or Christian perspectives on issues. See the last page of this report for a few references to get you started. 

4. Identify any "instructional gaps" that need to be filled. This has to do with the sequence of academic learning (as opposed to values). If a textbook assumes the student has already learned a certain fact, term, or concept, but your child has not learned it, you will need to fill in the gap. You can identify any learning gaps your child may have by simply discussing the passage in question. Ask him if he understands it, if there are any key vocabulary words he doesn't understand, and if he can explain the learning to you in his own words. 

Bringing Your Concerns to School Officials

1. Learn the textbook adoption policy in your school district and state. It is easier to challenge a book before it is adopted than after it is already purchased and in use. Call the superintendent's office and ask what books are being considered for adoption, when the decision is being made, and how you can examine the books. 

2. Get the help and perspective of like-minded friends. It helps to bounce your concerns off of others. Sometimes they may even find other objectionable passages you overlooked. Educational Research Analysts suggest the following when you set up a review "team": 

A. Draw up clear review standards everyone can use to evaluate the textbook. 

B. Double check all information to which you object. You cannot afford to make embarrassing mistakes in the facts. 

C. If you are reviewing several texts under consideration, use the same criteria for each. Develop an evaluation scale based on the number of pages devoted to a topic or balance of viewpoints on a controversial topic, or number of times a controversial topic appears.You can also create a list of topics that should be included in a good treatment of a given subject. Then, compare the degree to which each textbook (or the one textbook you are challenging) measures up to the list. 

D. Don't object to a passage that could reasonably be construed in another, less objectionable way. You can't afford to look petty or appear to take passages out of context. 

E. Look for patterns of liberal bias or other concerns as well as individual incidents. Establishing a pattern of bias helps build your case. 

F. Put your main points on one page. Make the page visually engaging so it will attract the attention of busy school board members. Save your lengthy documentation for backup. 

3. When presenting your case to school officials, keep the following points in mind: 

A. If you are accused of being an overly protective parent, ask your accuser if he has read the book in question. Then begin asking him about specific passages. In many cases, you will find the school official has not actually read the book. Educational Research Analysts recommend that after exposing the school official's lack of familiarity with the book, you close with this question: "Is it your position with the school district that obligates you to defend this book rather than its merits?" 

B. Meet with school officials privately. Two parents/reviewers should meet with each school board member over coffee or in his or her office. This helps break down preconceived notions that you are some kind of a wild-eyed fanatic. Outside the public spotlight, you may get the school official to give you his true feelings about the issue. Ask for his or her support in backing your concern. 

C. Avoid making charges of communism, Satanism, and one-world conspiracies. This will generally cause people to stop looking at your objections seriously. 

D. Don't let education jargon distract or intimidate you. Ask educators to fully explain their use of a term that is unfamiliar to you. 

E. Be sure to offer your criticisms in context. Don't leave the door open for your opponents to accuse you of taking a passage out of context and distorting its meaning. 

F. Offer alternative textbooks when possible. 

G. Remain calm, dignified, and pleasant throughout the process - even when you get frustrated. It is often easy to react with anger to those who oppose you. Your anger will too often work against you. You may appear mean-spirited and overly emotional. Remember the example of Jesus in Matthew 9:36, "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." Remind yourself that ultimately your actions may lead them to the Good Shepherd and that, at the very least, your conduct and attitude should not drive them away from Him. 

Helpful Resources

Educational Research Analysts
PO Box 7518
Longview, TX 75607
(903) 753-5993
FAX: (903) 753-7788
Web site: www.textbookreviews.org 

This conservative, Christian organization has reviewed many textbooks for over 30 years and may have a review of your child's textbook on file. To find out, give ERA the title, author, publisher, and copyright date of the book in question. They do not review books of fiction. 

Probe Ministries
1900 Firman Drive, Suite 100
Richardson, TX 75081
(972) 480-0240
FAX: (972) 644-9664
Web site: www.probe.org 

This ministry provides an intellectual defense of Christian beliefs and values in the marketplace of ideas. 

Summit Ministries
928 Osage Avenue
Manitou Springs, CO 80829
(719) 685-9103
FAX: (719) 685-9330
Web site: www.summit.org
This group prepares high school students to counter the liberal bias in college. 

Endnotes

1. Based on an article written by Mel and Norma Gabler, "A Parent's Guide to Textbook Review and Reform," The Heritage Foundation (Washington, D.C., 1978). Some additions made to update data. 

2. A History of US, vol. 10 (Oxford University Press: New York, NY, 1995) p. 184

3. Rise of the American Nation (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982) as cited by Dr. Paul Vitz, Censorship: Evidence of Bias in Our Children's Textbooks; (Servant Books; Ann Arbor, MI 1986) p. 50-51

4. Dr. Paul Vitz, Censorship: Evidence of Bias in Our Children's Textbooks; (Servant Books; Ann Arbor, MI 1986) p. 70

5. Peter West, "Skeptics Questioning the Accuracy, Bias of Environmental Education," Education Week, 16 June 1993, p. 1

6. A History of US, vol. 10 (Oxford University Press: New York, NY 1995) p. 181

7. Based on an article written by Mel and Norma Gabler, "A Parent's Guide to Textbook Review and Reform," The Heritage Foundation (Washington, D.C., 1978) Some additions made to update data.