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Battle of the Textbooks

Apparently while I was on vacation, the Texas Board of Education moved to add a dose of conservative (and evangelical) historiography into the state social studies curriculum—Milton Friedman! Phyllis Schlafly! Jesus! As Sam Tanenhaus noted last Sunday in the New York Times, some of their revisions are more controversial than others. What matters more is how that content is spun, and which other stories are edged out. 

All that got me thinking about school textbooks, and how previous textbook debates played out. So off I went to the digital archive to see what I could uncover. 

One of the best resources I’ve found is the University of Pittsburgh’s Nietz Old Textbook Collection named for historian, textbook collector, and Dewey disciple John Nietz. Among the 140 digitized books, you’ll find such gems as The Illustrated School History of the United States by the delightfully named G.P.Quackenbos (image right). Texas historians will be disappointed to note the 1857 book makes no mention of the Founders’ religion

A few other sources to note: William Alcott’s Slate and Black Board Exercises,  The Ladies’ Reader : designed for the use of schools and family reading circles, and Lessons in Hygiene.

You’ll also find much to peruse and enjoy within Harvard’s new and rather extraordinary reading history exhibit, which includes many textbooks from the Gutman Education Library.  Among my favorites is the handsomely illustrated Stepping Stones to Literature, including the not-so-sensitively titled story “The Truthful Little Persian.”

And don’t miss the 1802 American Preceptor, by Caleb Bingham, Dartmouth man and “author of the Young Lady’s Accidence”‘; Tales of the Deaf and Dumb, with Miscellaneous Poems; and from 1866, The Freedman’s Spelling Book, pictured to the left.

I’m short on time but not on sources, check out the Library of Congress’s 19th Century Education collection, and for the religiously-minded, MSU’s Sunday School Book archive.

Come back next week for Passover and Easter!

Pedagogically yours,

Stephen

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