Widely Adopted History Textbooks


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The American Textbook Council is often asked to provide usage lists and sales rankings of the nation's widely adopted history textbooks. The Council cannot provide such information, which is proprietary and not available to the public. The details of textbook volume and sales have never been easy to obtain. Today these numbers and data are harder than ever to calculate.

The instructional materials in U.S. and world history that mass-market publishers develop and publish have at best tangential connections with traditional author-based textbooks that competed nationally. Newer, radically reconstituted programs — packaged and ornamental, not authored or text-centered — replacing established textbooks leave the Council no option but to discontinue lists and qualitative rankings of social studies textbooks as it has done in the past.

Textbook choice for teachers has in recent decades shrunk to almost nothing. The number of major school publishers has dropped from about a dozen to three. Since 2010, the three remaining major K-12 publishers — Prentice Hall (Pearson), McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — have re-branded and scrambled earlier products. America: Pathways to the Present is as satisfactory a high school American History textbook as exists in the current market and the only title that can be termed satisfactory. In addition, highly partisan textbooks pushing radical multiculturalism popular with engaged, politically active educators come from the Teachers Curriculum Institute (TCI).

In lower grades, text-light picture books and easy readers are now almost universal; content distinctions between books are minor, and at the K-6 level, indistinguishable. In high schools projects and activities frequently substitute for reading and memorization. The challenge to literacy and serious historical thought is obvious. The wide-scale shift in elementary schools to whiteboard learning and other computer-based instruction makes the standard printed textbook one of many media in many classrooms, not the center of teaching and learning. Compounding the problem, state textbook adoptions have lost their qualitative force.

College Level Textbooks for High School Students

The Council strongly recommends that high school teachers consider the use of a "college level" textbook of the kind employed in "honors" and Advanced Placement courses. Some 25 college-level survey American History textbooks are sold nationwide, depending on one's markers and metrics. College books — so designated — are recommended for all able high school students, not only Advanced Placement students. Many college surveys are relatively easy to read - they are designed for community colleges and made to be readable to the English challenged. College-level textbooks have stronger narrative threads and greater substance. They are more readable. They make more episodic and chronological sense than the fragmented, text-light fare in 8-12 grade offerings. Some leading American History textbooks include:

Brinkley Unfinished Nation McGraw Hill
Divine America Past and Present Prentice Hall
Faragher Out of Many Prentice Hall
Henretta America's History Bedford/Macmillan
Kennedy The American Pageant Houghton Mifflin/Cengage
Norton A People and a Nation Houghton Mifflin/Cengage
Tindall America: A Narrative History Norton


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