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The Popular High School Textbook That Writes Off Conservatives

American Pageant trumpets Democratic presidents while sneering at Trump and ignoring Republicans.

It is now common knowledge that Republicans, conservatives, and religious students face intolerance and outright harassment on college campuses across the United States. To endure today’s rite of passage of getting a degree, tens of thousands of young men and women take out loans every year to attend institutions promising “intellectual freedom” and “critical inquiry,” only to be told on arrival that their beliefs are hurtful and wrong.

This absurdity, well documented, has been going on for decades. Less well known, however, is the degree to which liberal bias has been implanted in the curricula of our younger students.

In our modern era of standardized testing, public school teachers are more reliant than ever on centrally controlled lesson plans and 30:1 student-to-instructor ratios. In 1950, when the American population was 150 million, there were 83,000 regular public school districts. Today, although the population has climbed to more than 320 million, there are only 13,000 school districts. That means that a small number of people—school administrators—have vastly more power over what students learn.

Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, a public school’s funding has depended partially on the regurgitation of government-endorsed facts. That’s often left educators without the time to teach their subjects any other way, even if they want to. Most alarmingly, the textbooks commonly used in today’s public high schools have such a partisan bent that it’s a miracle any students are able to complete their studies without turning into card-carrying members of the woke, intersectional, crazy left.

Most parents of high school juniors and seniors are likely to have seen a book called The American Pageant come home in their children’s backpacks. American Pageant is among the most widely used textbooks in AP U.S. History classes. It was first published in 1956 and has been somewhat updated (though not improved) across 17 editions that have been read by tens of millions of students. It’s one of the most influential books in education today. It’s also a successor to communist Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which influenced a whole generation of history teachers.

The presentation of facts and opinions in American Pageant are straight out of a liberal propaganda machine. “New York City real estate mogul and reality-television personality Donald J. Trump bullied, belittled, and bamboozled sixteen rivals to snag-some said hi-jack-the Republican nomination,” one passage about the 2016 presidential election begins. “His legions of critics, including many Republican grandees, considered the brash billionaire a swaggering colossus of ignorance, vanity, and vulgarity.” We’ve become accustomed to seeing such divisiveness on TV news. We need to realize that it’s also in our public school textbooks.

Unfortunately, the bile continues to flow off the pages that cover the 20th century too. Chapters 27 through 40 guide impressionable young readers through the evolution of the modern presidency from William McKinley to William Jefferson Clinton. Each and every Republican chief executive within this period is denigrated and diminished. The “frugal, grim-faced” Calvin Coolidge comes off a bit more sympathetically than poor Herbert Hoover (“shy, standoffish, and stiff”), while Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Greatest Generation have been reduced to a case of “the bland leading the bland.” Descriptions of Richard Nixon bounce between evil mastermind and a man with “no clear mandate to do anything” (Nixon won one of the largest political victories in American history). And Reagan—the “Great Communicator” who won both an economic war and the Cold War—is tarred as “no intellectual.” I’ll spare you the ludicrous wording used to describe Democratic presidents except to note that they sound like they’re walking on environmentally purified water.

Having abandoned all pretense at qualitative fairness, American Pageant plunges ahead with blatant quantitative distortions. Students of mathematics know that there are 100 years between 1900 and 2000, and history tells us that the century was split 47/53 between Democrats and Republicans in the White House respectively. Yet American Pageant in its current edition devotes almost twice as much space to liberal politicians as their conservative counterparts, breaking down on an average ratio of 124:71.

Franklin D. Roosevelt garners a staggering 299 mentions in the book. Nixon, who is the lucky subject of the most detailed section on a Republican, counts 135 mentions, but most of that coverage is about Watergate.

The study of American history gives meaning to our place in the world and exerts a powerful influence on our perception of current events. Thomas Jefferson said that a public education ought to be “chiefly historical” for civic reasons—because “it will qualify them [students] as judges of the actions and designs of men.”

But not just as judges. What we will discover—what we have already discovered—is that what is taught in schools to one generation influences both the teachers of the next as well as the philosophy of government itself. The authors of American Pageant have appointed themselves as the judges of actions and the shapers of schoolroom philosophy, to the detriment of students as well as the rest of us. Schools should stick to presenting the facts and let students form their own opinions.

about the author

Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of Education and Research Institute and Senior Director of White House Writers Group in Washington, D.C. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Ronald Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of National Review. Email Daniel Oliver at [email protected]

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