“When it comes to teaching history, nothing destroys student interest faster and more completely than a heavy reliance on textbooks” is how this article opens up. I could not agree more. I loved my freshman year social studies class because my teacher used in class activities to get students excited for history. Then my sophomore year we used a lot more textbook and I found my interest continually declining.
Now that I am a history major, I can resonate even more with this statement. Not because I am entirely against textbooks, indeed I actually enjoy a lot of my textbooks. The problem is that in high school, students take what the textbooks say as law. Now that I am pursuing a career in history, I have realized that textbooks present certain biases and opinions.
My ideas summarize a few of David Cutler’s reasons behind the pitfalls of history textbooks. Here are the five.
“1. Textbooks present history as unchanging, but as time passes, our understanding and interpretation of the past constantly evolves.
2. Textbooks are one-sided, offering a top-down, often white-male-centric view of history.
3. Without a thesis or any semblance or argument, textbooks don’t accurately reflect how most scholars (at least good ones) write and present history. Teachers should assign readings that model effective historical writing.
4. Most importantly—and this merits repeating—textbooks are boring and intimidating.
5. Textbooks can serve as a crutch for teachers who don’t know history or the historian’s craft.”
As a teacher in training, I also see merit in Cutler’s belief that if teachers only teach the textbook then they will only teach on what is in the textbook. . . “long lists of facts,” which gives students the false impression on what history really is. We want to teach students to think critically and interpret what happens and why it happened.
Long story short. Teach history. Don’t teach the textbook.
If you want to read all the article — which I highly recommend — check it out here.