The Expiration Date of History Textbooks

By Clarke Prophete
While history may not change, the way we understand history certainly does.
To understand our history and why we are where we are today is extremely important. Textbooks are becoming outdated due to new events. Although these events aren’t ancient history, they are still history the minute after they happen. When do schools update the information in their curriculum? When do certain events become minor details or part of the history we are taught?

Author Kayla Lowe believes, “English and math textbooks don’t have to be changed as often as science or history books because their information doesn’t change as frequently.” You can’t change the past, but more is being added to it every day. There’s no rule which regulates what you can and cannot teach your students, but the events of history themselves are important. “Some state-approved textbooks offer adoption cycles that provide new textbooks every five to seven years.” Five years sounds like a better fit to me. Expenses may be more, but what are you supposed to be spending school money on? These should be priorities for children.

Don Waters, a reporter for, tells an interesting story. “A new fourth-grade Virginia history textbook was found to contain the dubious assertion that battalions of African-American soldiers fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The textbook’s author, who has written other textbooks and children’s books like Oh Yuck!: The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty, says she found the information in question on the Internet.”

So, if such suspicious information can be found in a published textbook, can just anyone write one? Walters says “sorta.” “Anyone can write and publish a textbook. However, before it gets handed out to public-school students, the book’s content has to be approved by several review committees.” He continues, “In Virginia, as in most states, the board of education sets guidelines for a textbook’s content but not for the qualifications of its author. In theory, anyone with a self-published manuscript could send her/his work to the review board and try to get it into the public school curriculum.”

This process is not one that should be continued. The disregard of what information, right or wrong, enters classrooms makes impressions on young minds. That’s excluding the fact that there is a chance of feeding children information that’s just wrong.

The history we’re taught is also often very selective. For example, I can admit that I’ve never learned about the Chinese revolution, a major event in one of the most powerful countries in the world. Understanding the making and struggles of another culture is always something important. As a black woman, I understand my history often being forgotten because of its lack of incorporation in history lessons every year, or blatant disinformation about slavery in the United States.

Events around the world have great relevance to most everyone in a classroom and provide information that educates children on more than a few cultures, religions, and ethnicities over the span of time. This is how history textbooks should be constructed.

The Barstow School

11511 State Line Road • Kansas City, MO 64114
P (816) 942-3255 • F (816) 942-3227