Widely Adopted History Textbooks


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The American Textbook Council has in the past provided usage lists and rankings of the nation's widely adopted history textbooks. It cannot provide exact sales and volume information, which is proprietary and not available to the public. The details of textbook usage have never been easy to obtain. Today these numbers and data are harder than ever to calculate, and complicated by the many titles, editions, ancillaries, and supplements attached to a program.

The number of major school publishers has dropped since 1990 from about a dozen to three. Textbook choice for teachers has recently shrunk to almost nothing. Generic programs make qualitative rankings of social studies textbooks impossible. In lower grades, text-light picture books and easy readers are now almost universal; content distinctions between books are minor, in fact, virtually indistinguishable. The wide-scale shift to whiteboards and computer-based instruction makes the printed textbook one of many media, not the center of teaching and learning. Compounding the content problem, state textbook adoptions have lost their qualitative force.

Since 2010, the three remaining major K-12 publishers — Prentice Hall (Pearson), McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — have re-branded and scrambled earlier secondary-level products. Generic programs in U.S. and World History differ from traditional text-heavy, author-based textbooks. They are designed solely to fit curriculum mandates across all states and provide instructional materials for teachers and students of limited ability.

For secondary-level students, in the hands of a capable teacher, America: Pathways to the Present provides reliable instructional lessons. In world history, Connections to Today (Pearson) and Patterns of Interaction (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) are two classroom standards that likewise offer satisfactory accounts. In European history, Spielvogel’s Western Civilization (Houghton Mifflin/Cengage) is recommended. While nominally an Advanced Placement text, it is widely used in high-school honors courses. These well established titles with long lifetimes and many editions contrast with highly partisan textbooks pushing radical multiculturalism, notably those sold by the Teachers Curriculum Institute (TCI).

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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