What Happened in Our History Books?
[imgbelt img=countyagentandfarmer.jpg]A study of textbooks over the past 50 years finds that high school
students increasingly are being taught that rural America is a deprived
and lonely place.
[imgcontainer left] [img:textruralfarmer320.jpg] [source]The Making of Modern America
In this illustration from a 1956 high school history book, a government agent enlightens a farmer about an ear of corn, asserting that rural America makes progress through state and expert intervention.
We examined the contents of six widely used high school history books to learn what these books teach their readers across the U.S. about rural life. Our study reveals that over the past 50 years the characterization of rural America has changed.
Earlier books emphasized qualities of individualism and community spirit, stability and adventurousness in rural America, but texts in the past two decades primarily characterize rural as deficient. While both these messages about rural life were present to some degree in the books across all five decades, there has been a decided shift in emphasis. In the more recent texts, rural Americans’ industriousness and contributions to the nation’s democracy are downplayed, supplanted by references to rural ignorance, recklessness and despair.
Americans of all ages, even children and adolescents, typically are critical readers of popular media’s representations of rural life. But they may have less reason to view textbooks with equal skepticism. Even in our digital age, textbooks still provide official knowledge; as shown in a number of recent scholarly studies, students regard the ideas presented in school texts as legitimate. Perceived as authoritative, the contents of schoolbooks may have the power to shape both individual action and public policy.
[imgcontainer left] [img:ruraltext1950s150.jpg] [source]The Making of Modern America (1956)