Lies My Textbooks Told Me: Blowing Up Controversy on Three Mile Island
“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.” – George Orwell, 1984
Commonly used history textbooks in American classrooms often misrepresent major historical events, and present material based in liberal political ideology rather than factual happenings.
The Culture and Media Institute has obtained six textbooks commonly used in American classrooms. Three of these textbooks are used to teach 8th graders: Glencoe’s “The American Journey,” Prentice Hall’s “The American Nation,” and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston’s “Call to Freedom: Beginnings to 1877.” The other three textbooks are used to teach 11th graders: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston’s “American Anthem,” Prentice Hall’s “
These textbooks are used by a majority of the public schools in this country, according to the American Textbook Council, which describes itself as a “non-partisan research organization interested in textbook improvement and review.” In 2003, the director of the American Textbook Council, Gilbert Sewall, testified before the Senate: “Many history textbooks reflect lowered sights for general education. They raise basic questions about sustaining literacy and civic understanding in a democratic polity and culture.”
A careful examination of these textbooks shows that they often display a disregard for basic factual evidence when discussing many major historical events and figures – reflecting the tendency of some historians to interpret history from a liberal political standpoint. CMI will be revealing the results of its investigations into these textbooks in a series of future articles.
Three Miles from Fact
CMI first examined textbooks’ recounting of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident,
Of the six textbooks that CMI examined, four covered the
Prentice Hall’s “A History of the
There were other fears about nuclear reactors. If something went awry in the plant, radioactive material could be released in the air, endangering lives for miles around. This threat appeared remote during the first twenty years of nuclear power. Then suddenly, in the spring of 1979, something went wrong at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near
By the 1980’s, problems of safety, pollution, and soaring costs resulted in the cancellation of all new nuclear plants ordered after 1973. To many observers, it appeared that energy from coal, small plants producing electricity from streams and rivers, windmills, and such new alternative sources as solar power might be the wave of the future.
Prentice Hall’s “
Glencoe’s “The American Journey” was less strident in its anti-nuclear message, but it also failed to provide a full picture of the incident. “In the late 1970’s, nuclear power became a major issue. In March 1979, a major accident appeared at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near
Holt’s “American Anthem” was the only textbook that gave an accurate portrayal of the incident, noting: “In 1979 a mishap at a nuclear power plant located at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania terrified the nation. For a time, officials seemed unsure how to correct problems that threatened a massive release of radiation into the environment. Some people in the immediate area of the plant were evacuated. In the end, very little radiation was released, and no one suffered any ill effects. However, public concern about the safety of nuclear power continued to grow.”
It is fair to say that Three Mile Island caused great fear among the American populace, and that the incident played a major role in turning
Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, told CMI: “History textbooks always have heroes and villains. The question is which heroes and villains textbooks choose to highlight.”
The consistent slant of American history textbooks - on