School district replacing potentially biased textbook

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Monday, May 11, 2015 11:13pm
  • News

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is replacing an eighth-grade history textbook called into question for containing potentially biased information.

The publisher, Prentice Hall, is exchanging “America: History of Our Nation, Beginnings through 1877,” with “American History: Beginnings through Reconstruction,” at no cost to the school district.

The board of education approved the original textbook for continued use under the condition it be removed from the curriculum as soon as a reasonable substitute is found, during the board’s April 6 meeting.

“The school board wanted to replace it as soon as possible,” said school district Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator Melissa Linton. “The book will be taught in all eighth grade social studies classrooms.”

The replacement book, which will be taught with digital and hard copy editions, went through a review process with some members of the Instructional Material Review Committee and the Social Studies Curriculum Committee, Linton said. School board members also had the chance to read the new book, she said.

Prentice Hall offered is exchanging “America: History of Our Nation, Beginnings through 1877,” for free because a portion of the copies sent to the school district were the wrong edition, Linton said. Both the correct and incorrect copies had the same ISBN number, she said.

The publisher is also including necessary training and additional materials for free, Linton said.

Mary Toutonghi, who spent 17 years working as a speech language pathologist in the school district and had three children graduate from local schools, filed a Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials with the school district for the original textbook on Feb. 9, 2014. She called it a “highly prejudiced book.”

In the request, Toutonghi said she read the entire contents of the textbook and found “many inaccuracies.” She asked the materials be referred for re-evaluation and removed from school use.

“I am relieved that they will be replacing the old one,” Toutonghi said. “The original was very strongly politically oriented which should not be the purpose of a middle school history book. I am sure they all are to some degree but this was just blatant.”

Toutonghi also said the original also included religious perspectives. She said she is not against religious practices, but should be kept out of state education.

“It just doesn’t belong because this country is not a Christian fundamentalist country,” Toutonghi said. “This is the second year it’s been in use.”

Myla Liljemark, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Seward Middle School who served on the review committee, said she taught the old textbook in her classroom, and is excited to teach the new textbook. The new textbook offers additional teaching materials that address different learning abilities, she said.

The sections of the old textbook that showed political bias were not associated with the school district’s curriculum, Liljemark said. However, history is a difficult subject to teach from a universally appealing perspective, she said.

The new book does not appear to be overtly biased, but history is a hard subject to present without someone seeing some bias in a version of events, Liljemark said.

Once the new textbook arrives, parents and community members may contact the school district’s curriculum and assessment department to review a copy, Linton said. The new book will be in classrooms next fall.

Superintendent Sean Dusek said the school district has further plans for curriculum development.

“We are planning on still working with our middle school teachers to start developing resources that we can use that fit with our curriculum and our standards,” said Dusek. “In the future in the next several years we can move toward a more electronic format, that fit with what our borough and what our district expects.”


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