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Post Textbook Selection in the US: The Power of Texas
Created by John Eipper on 09/14/20 4:46 AM

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Textbook Selection in the US: The Power of Texas (Edward Jajko, USA, 09/14/20 4:46 am)

In response to Francisco Ramírez's statement about a professor at Syracuse University and the contribution of his textbook to the misinterpretation of this country's history of slavery, the way of life of the South, etc., while it is possible that that professor may have had malicious intent, may have been ignorant or obtuse, there is also another possible explanation. Textbooks were (and are?) written for national readerships and published by major houses. The McGraw Hill Book Company was for some time the largest publisher of textbooks in the US. (McGraw Hill, now S&P Global, has gone through so many changes that I'm not sure if a subsidiary or another company entirely is still the major US textbook publisher.)

In a class on publishing in the School of Library Service of Columbia University, given in 1969-'70 by the then Executive VP of McGraw Hill, I learned about some of the obstacles in textbook publishing. Textbooks have to be approved for adoption by school boards, beginning on the state level but then also being reflected in decisions of county or other local boards. Texas had an outsize influence on textbook publishing. It was, first, a state with a large population, but second, it has 254 counties. Right now, Texas has about 30,000,000 people and 254 counties. California has 40,000,000, a population larger than Canada, and 58 counties. For textbook publishers, that meant 255 jurisdictions at the very least that had to be satisfied with the contents of the textbooks that would be used for the teaching of young Texans. An adoption of a textbook by Texas would likely mean adoption by other Southern states as well as those in the North, and a return on investment for the publisher and income from royalties for the textbook author.

Some textbook authors made millions from their work. One such author, a Stanford professor who was made a Hoover Fellow (and was pleasant and decent even toward us who were not in his field), built an architecturally distinguished house on the campus that he willed to the university; it serves as the residence of the provost.

But back to the main topic: I would suspect that the reason the Syracuse professor's textbook added to or followed the narrative of the Lost Cause was the problems faced by publishers in trying to get their textbooks approved by the innumerable school boards in the different regions of the country and the concessions they made in order to get their books published, however imperfect or imprecise.

JE comments:  I had long been aware that Texas exerts a disproportionate influence on US textbook selection, but Ed Jajko is the first to explain why:  Texas has more individual jurisdictions than California.  (For comparison, New York has 62 counties, Florida 67.)  Veteran WAISers recall that Prof. Hilton was fascinated with how history is taught in different nations (and regions within nations).  The final project of his life was the establishment of a library for the comparative study of history textbooks.  The "WAIS History Textbook Project" ultimately gained little traction, but it might be time to return to this extremely valuable "Lost Cause."

As for the Confederate Lost Cause, the original intentions may have been national reconciliation--for white people.  The rub was that the LC narrative brought Jim Crow, voter suppression and another century of second-class status for African Americans.

Returning to textbooks, technology now allows for content to be tailored to meet customer expectations.  If it hasn't happened already, we'll soon see the "Texas" and "California" versions of American history.  Of course, the very notion of "textbook" is changing.  Prices have become stratospheric.  The intro Spanish text we teach from now costs--gulp!--$210.  My college days weren't that long ago, and a basic textbook ran about $30.

My conclusion:  the days of the printed textbook are numbered.


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