What's explained in world history texts is based on the History-
Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools. In the 1970s, the state legislature and department of education began enacting these "social content standards," do's and don'ts, if you will, that all K-12 texts had to comply with. Since then, the standards have been refined and codified and are now legally binding for core classes. An example is the first of the 11 standards for tenth-grade world history: "Students relate the moral and ethical principles in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, in Judaism, and in Christianity to the development of Western political thought."
The California standards describe the material to be learned. The goal of all learning is for "students to become prepared to participate successfully in events of local, state, national, and international significance." How do teachers get to the goal in world history? One way is via a 234-page book, The History-Social Science Framework, from the California Department of Education. The framework guides teachers by listing the criteria that all instructional material must contain. Standards are exactly stated; the framework offers 25 criteria to help insure that the content of the text is aligned with the standards. Some of the criteria are strict. Lower-grade history classes, for instance, must explore the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1850, and every grade level must study the "life and contributions of" César Chávez and Martin Luther King Jr. For high school kids, some guidelines are more open: texts should examine "humanity's place in ecological systems"; be "based on the best recent scholarship"; and "give significant attention to the principles of morality, truth, justice, and patriotism and to a comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, inspiring an understanding of and a commitment to American ideals."
World history is segmented into three periods to be studied in three grades. Grade six focuses on the agricultural, technological, and political development of the first societies, with a concentration on political and religious leaders, art and culture, the role of women, and the foundation of Western ideas; India and China are studied, but the Hebrews, Greece, and Rome are central. Grade seven covers the fall of Rome, the rise of Christianity, the civilizations of the Americas (Inca, Aztec, Mayan), China and Japan, the rise of Islam, as well as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe. Grade ten picks up with the Enlightenment and moves to the founding of America, the political history on either side of the First and Second World Wars, and the War on Terrorism. Eras and empires are encapsulated, while the narrative emphasizes the "contributions" of religion and culture to humankind as well as Western-style democracy to emerging nations. The purpose of the state standards is to answer the question, "What should my child be learning?"
Each year, depending on a six- or eight-year cycle of textbook adoption, the district's instructional materials department requests books from publishers. (Texts for K-8 are chosen by state committees; texts for 9-12 are chosen by local committees.) In 2004, advanced world history, along with algebra, AP biology, AP physics, and other courses, were slated for new materials. Publishers are especially keen on 9-12 adoptions because, as "open territories," any product, theoretically, is in the running. However, according to Donna Marriott, San Diego Unified assistant director for literacy, bi-literacy, English learner support, and social studies, "Any curriculum that comes into the facility has to be accompanied by a standards map." A standards map is a grid that shows, by correlating page and standard, how the publisher has aligned his book with the standards. Only those publishers who have designed their books to match the standards have a chance. Of the 456 publishers the district contacted for world history adoption, 10 publishers, or two percent, sent books.
At the same time the ten books were arriving, Marriott asked former Clairemont High history teacher Patrick McElhaney to chair the advanced world history adoption committee. A pleasant if abstracted man, McElhaney, 39, spoke with me in his classroom at Point Loma High School. For a year, he worked at the district, overseeing the history curriculum, but is now back in the classroom. Wearing a dark blue shirt with a darker blue tie, the bearded McElhaney told me that he and Marriott advertised in fall 2004 through department chairs, school principals, and parent-teacher forums for people to join the committee. Committee chairs are required by the superintendent to request a ratio of "three-five parent/community participants" and "to have a cross section of people with diverse ethnicity from various parts of the city." According to the committee's report to the board, the committee chair "promoted involvement of parents and community members." Marriott assured me that they followed the requisite guidelines.
Ten teachers signed up, eight white and two African-American, but no parent or "community member" volunteered. McElhaney said that the teachers joined (each was paid for 20-30 hours of work) because "they want a good book." Were historians and scholars solicited? According to Marriott, "They were not singled out, though we would love to have them involved." Some adoption committees, in language arts or health, do attract parents, religious groups, even the occasional scholar. One committee member said that historians were not contacted by the district because she believes potential textbooks have already been analyzed by in-house historian-consultants during the writing process. Textbooks list these "consultants" or "contributors" or "reviewers" in their author section. The Modern World History had some 40 names, typically college and high school history and social studies teachers. Many were contacted and none responded; one textbook insider said that consultants are bound by confidentiality agreements and cannot speak.
At the first meeting, McElhaney, a nonvoting member, trained the committee to evaluate books by using the state's rubric: the text must follow the standards, be readable, and have "depth of content." Within an hour the committee eliminated seven of the ten books -- they were not aligned to the standards. Although each district committee may choose its own 9-12 materials, state regulations narrow that choice severely. The committee cannot consider "materials that are contrary to or inconsistent with the standards, framework, and criteria." The adoption process is also bound by two Education Codes: 60119, which requires schools to have sufficient materials for every student, be standards-aligned, and be consistent with the curriculum frameworks, and 60422, which requires the state, when spending money on textbooks, to pay only for "standards-aligned instructional materials." A third restriction: California tenth graders are tested for knowledge based on the standards. Tom Adams, director of the Curriculum Frameworks Unit at the California Department of Education, told me that if a district decides to teach the world history curriculum outside of the state's framework, the district is putting "those students in a situation where they're taught one thing and they're being tested on another. What's being tested is based upon the standards." Point Loma High history teacher Simone Arias, who served on the committee, asserted that the committee "had no choice. The publishers publish the book to fit the framework. The standards and the state demand we follow them, so the book that comes closest to spelling them out wins."