Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What Makes a Good US History Textbook?

I recently received an email from a US History teacher in Hawaii, who inquired about a text book that accurately portrays "the other side" as it deals with America's dealings with the American Indian and the annexation of Hawaii.

At a loss, I figured I'd post his request to see if anyone out there can give him some guidance. Please comment below or email me directly at USHistorySite at gmail dot com.

This also begs the question, What makes a good American History textbook?

His request below. Thanks in advance for your help.


I teach in a small (only 40 students grades K-12) Public Charter School in Hawai'i whose students are all Hawaiian and who all come from families from the privately-owned island of Ni'ihau. Most of our students speak Hawaiian as their first language, and those who don't have chosen our school because part of the mission of the school is to help strengthen and perpetuate the Ni'ihau dialect among this small community who are the only speakers of this dialect in the entire world.

So far we have been doing project-based or topic-based lessons in US history, but I've been wondering if there exists a good high school textbook (or other book) that presents all the great things in US history but which also deals fairly with the not-so-admirable topics by presenting "the other side," especially when dealing with American Indians and even the annexation of Hawai'i.

Hawaiian students are more than aware of the injustice of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, and the sovereignty movement is definitely a live issue here, so sometimes it's a fine line between acknowledging past wrongs and still appreciating the good side of the US, especially for these students.

I've searched the Internet and asked other teachers here on Kaua'i, but no one seems to know if such a book exists. I've never even entered a blog site before, but I started wondering if this is a way to find what I'm looking for. On thing to consider is that for most of our students, English is their second language, so the difficulty of the language in a text must be considered.

To whomever reads this: Is this a way to help me in my search, or do you have any other suggestions?

Mahalo (thank you),
Hokulani Cleeland

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ohnothimagain said...

I would suggest James Loewen's Lies my Teacher told me and Howard Zinn's Peoples History of the United States

klkatz said...

From a colleague I met at a conference:

This is the one we ordered a couple years ago. Seems to present a fairly balanced discussion of the overthrow, annexation, and sovereignty.

Jeremy said...

"I would suggest James Loewen's Lies my Teacher told me and Howard Zinn's Peoples History of the United States."
I don't think that is what he is looking for. James Loewen's work is a critique of history textbooks not a textbook itself. Also he wanted a textbook that presented a fair and blanced (hate to sound like fox news) on both sides focusing on good and bad points of the U.S. Howard Zinn by his own admission is very biased with a heavy focus on the 'not nice" aspects.

ohnothimagain said...

The poster also said other books and I think that both of those books would be helpful to include them with your more traditional textbooks. I would also suggest looking at Loewen's website which has a lot of information on teaching and other helpful hints.

klkatz said...

A colleague of mine sent me this link... very appropriate for this discussion:

The Voice said...

Today I began searching for 'history' blogs. I wanted to see if there are any books like I have written. Beads on a String-America's Racially Intertwined Biographical History it is on my site

The book includes every race that had anything to do with making America the country it is. Please let me know what you think.

A.T. said...

As a student, I think that a good history textbook should be written in a neutral way. For exampe it should include mistakes, comments and positive way of actions of both sides, if the subject is war or anything like that. It should not provoke nationalism, kinds of economic systems or trends that direct students to think one sided. A history textbook should make students to think in a critical and reconstructive way. It should include many historical records in the forms of pictures,cartoons, videos, letters and documents. Also it should be creative that can explain the information as the way that students will not find like a story.

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