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The hidden messages in textbooks

Magnifying glass on a stack of textbooks
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The hidden messages in textbooks

Stanford education professor Patricia Bromley looks at how schoolbooks reflect—and drive—changes in society.

Important political and cultural messages are embedded in textbooks in the United States and around the world, says Patricia Bromley, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education whose research includes studying changes in civic education worldwide.

On this episode of School’s In, Bromley joins GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to talk about how textbooks have changed over the decades, both mirroring and advancing political viewpoints. 

She points to one striking example in Texas, where statewide history curricula include Moses as an influence on the founding documents of the United States. “No other states have that as part of their standards,” she says. Countries undergoing major cultural, political and economic shifts also use textbooks to establish new national norms, she adds: Changing textbooks “are often a centerpiece of how new regimes seek to roll out what they’re trying to do in the country.” 

“I don’t think we can ever get outside a system where [textbooks] aren’t representing some kind of values,” she said. “They can represent different sorts of values, ones we decide to call ‘better’ or ‘worse,’ and there should be conversations about that. But they always have values embedded in them.”

You can listen to School's In on SiriusXM Insight channel 121, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Soundcloud.

Faculty mentioned in this article: Patricia Bromley

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