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Twentieth-Century Textbook Wars

A History of Advocacy and Opposition


Gerard Giordano

When critics initially attacked textbook publishers for selfishly pursuing profits and employing flawed models of pedagogy, zealous advocates were able to rebut these philosophical arguments. Additional disputes erupted about the ways textbooks depicted nationalism, religion, race, and gender. Armed with precise examples of offensive textbook features, confrontational opponents could not be easily dismissed. Although publishers who wished to align themselves with national sentiments were willing to make changes, they were cautious because the criticism was heterogeneous and shifting. To ensure that their materials embodied the attitudes and values of most of their clients, they made expedient adaptations in reaction to clearly specified social criticism. Although grounded in business principles, this ability to deftly make precise, well-timed responses accounted not only for twentieth-century textbooks' financial longevity, but for their widespread public approval and indisputable classroom prominence.