NOTHING MAKES HISTORY LESS INTERESTING THAN A HISTORY TEXTBOOK
A comprehensive look at major history and social studies textbooks by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
History textbooks and their publishers are frequently the subject of harsh criticism in the media for giving students books ladled with gross inaccuracies, anti-American multicultural bias, insipid prose, shallow or nonexistent analysis, cowardly avoidance of controversial topics and an obvious kowtowing to parochially minded screwball activists in a few big states. That criticism is, in my professional opinion, an accurate one though I would add another:
LACK OF NARRATIVE WRITING:
History is interesting as a discipline because it consists - when done well - of intriguing stories to tell and think about. The human mind is hard wired to enjoy a good yarn, which is why almost every human culture develops myths, oral traditions and in more advanced civilizations, great literature. Despite this, textbook publishers persist in using the dry, bloodless, expository style of a computer manual in relating historical events, which quite naturally, turns off adolescent minds and perpetuates the public image of history class as the boring memorization of names and dates. Since a majority of public school teachers are not actually qualified to teach history or political science, not having majored in either subject, the poorly written textbook inevitably becomes for the newly hired assistant basketball coach, the entirety of the course. These unqualified folks are also the people who end up, in smaller school districts, making the decision on which textbook series the district is going to purchase and lacking much in the way of content knowledge they lean to whatever new book seems much like the old one. Since each sale of a series can mean from tens of thousands upwards to millions of dollars for a publisher they have every financial incentive to keep new textbooks substantively mediocre.
( Publishers have done a somewhat better job with their support materials and technology/internet resources that are sold, usually as part of a package or separately, with their textbooks as optional upgrades. This of course consists in part of some of the interesting or controversial material that ought to have been included in the main text. )