During my first three years of teaching high-school history I would see students’ eyes glaze over as we reviewed from a 1,000 page textbook. Five years later, I don’t blame them. So much is wrong with history textbooks, I hardly know where to begin, but here is my short list.
1. Textbooks present history as unchanging, but as time passes, our understanding and interpretation of the past constantly evolves.
2. Textbooks are one-sided, offering a top-down, often white-male-centric view of history.
3. Without a thesis or any semblance or argument, textbooks don’t accurately reflect how most scholars (at least good ones) write and present history.
4. Teachers should assign readings that model effective historical writing. Most importantly—and this merits repeating—textbooks are boring and intimidating.
5. Textbooks can serve as a crutch for teachers who don’t know history or the historian’s craft.