NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Rewriting State History

February 1, 1996

Inaccuracies, biases and omissions in American history textbooks used in public schools have become notorious over the years. Less well known are similar flaws in state history textbooks used in many states.

A historian recently examined four textbooks used to teach Michigan's state history to fourth graders and junior high students. Although the quality of the textbooks varied, he found bias and serious omissions in all -- particularly with respect to government and the economy. For example:

  • The texts fail to explain that John Jacob Astor's fur company was able to drive the trading company subsidized by the federal government out of business because Astor established good relations with the Indians, provided better goods and ran an efficient operation.
  • None of the texts pointed out the mismanagement and failure of state-built railroads in the 1840s that led to their sale to private industry and the adoption of a new state constitution banning government owned-enterprises.
  • Automotive workers' unions are portrayed as unmixed blessings for workers and the economy in all the texts.

One of the textbooks, a multicultural version of Michigan's history, portrays Indians as virtuous peaceful victims of whites intent on stealing their lands. It fails to discuss sometimes bloody conflicts between different tribes, and a massacre of whites that convinced the public that the Indians should be forced to move to Kansas.

Source: Burton W. Folsom, "Are Michigan History Textbooks Reliable?" January 1996, Mackinac Center, 119 Ashman Street, P.O. Box 568, Midland, MI 48640, (517) 631-0964.


Browse more articles on Education Issues