Archive for Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Controversial AP textbook used in area schools

April 22, 2008

A popular American government textbook has made headlines recently for having possible biases in the text, and it's used by students in the De Soto and Shawnee Mission school districts.

A New Jersey teenager recently raised questions about political bias in the book, "American Government" by James Wilson and John Dilulio, and the Center for Inquiry has said the teen might have a point. The center is a nonprofit organization without political affiliation that encourages evidence-based inquiry into science and other fields.

The organization critiqued the textbook recently on six areas, some of which include global warming and prayer in school.

The report concluded the issues needed immediate attention and said "the publishers owe a basic duty to students of American government, to the public, and to the authors to correct these errors and omissions."

Richard Blake, spokesman for the book's publisher, Houghton Mifflin Company, told the Associated Press the company "will be working with the authors to evaluate in detail the criticisms of the Center for Inquiry."

The book is widely used in Advanced Placement courses and was recommended by College Board, the company that oversees AP courses. College Board also will review the book.

Although it is not the main textbook for the AP American government class at De Soto High School, the school uses it as a supplement to the text, said Mike Murphy, learning coach for secondary social studies.

Murphy said the school has only one classroom set and uses the textbook, "The New American Democracy" published by Longman, as its primary text.

"We only check ("American Government") out to students who are going to take the AP text and would like a second book to compare and contrast," he said.

However, at Mill Valley High School "American Government" is the primary text, AP American government teacher Jeff Strickland said.

When Strickland learned about the claimed biases, he looked over the highlighted sections in the book himself.

"Yeah I can see where somebody can maybe construe the text as being somewhat biased, but this is considered a college-level book, and I think you would be hard pressed to find any college level text that didn't have some bias, whether conservative or liberal," he said.

Murphy, who also teaches at De Soto High, said he has heard more comments about the school's other AP American government book, "The New American Democracy."

"The students who have gone back and forth between the two books actually think the other book is fairly opinionated," he said.

As a learning coach, Murphy is involved in designing and changing curriculum, looking into new courses, adopting new materials, working on professional development and mentoring new teachers.

Although he is involved in selecting textbooks for district social studies courses, he said there is a different approach when it comes to those that are classified as AP courses.

"With AP we rely very heavily on recommendations from other AP teachers and the College Board," he said.

Murphy said "American Government" was one of the top two books recommended by College Board and other AP teachers.

In Shawnee Mission schools, the 2006 edition of the book is used, curriculum director Betsy Degen pointed out. The book in question was the 2005 edition.

"I'm not sure that it is the same text book," she said. "We have had no concerns related to our AP American government book."

Degen said like the De Soto school district, Shawnee Mission chose the book because it meets the district curriculum, College Board recommendations and is used by Johnson County Community College.

Strickland said the possible presence of bias could be a good teaching tool.

"I think it would be a good exercise to bring it up to students in class and ask them whether or not they think it's biased," he said.

Degen said because it is a college-level book, it frequently uses the discussion model, posing questions throughout the text.

"It presents students the foundation for making decisions and then helps them develop their own critical thinking process," she said.

Last week, Strickland did tell the students about the reports to find out what they thought.

"They read it and they personally didn't think it would sway them," he said. "That kind of started a little bit of a debate - I didn't really mean for it to - with the whole global-warming thing."

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