Board votes to retain challenged history text

A textbook that has been criticized as having a biased view of history has been approved for continued use after Kenai Peninsula Board of Education members voted to retain it.

Some board members said they had issues with the book, but ultimately found that it would be cost-prohibitive to find replacement material. In addition, a review committee found that the book contained several biased statements that counteracted each other — effectively rendering it balanced in its slanted representation of historical events.

The eighth grade social studies textbook was questioned by Kenai Peninsula resident Mary Toutonghi, who said it was a “highly prejudiced book.”

Varied copies of “America: History of Our Nation, Beginnings through 1877,” are currently in use in local classrooms, according to the request for reconsideration of instructional materials Toutonghi submitted to the school district.

“I am going to support this (keeping the material) with great reservations,” said board member Sunni Hilts.

The Instructional Materials Review Committee, which reviewed the literature, found it to be balanced in the coverage of gender, ethnicity and politics, Director of Elementary Education Christine Ermold told the board during a work session earlier this month.

She said the book did contain errors and misrepresentations of events, but all books have biases and errors.

When reviewing instructional materials, the committee needs to determine how egregious those issues are, she said.

An analysis of the text found partisan statements, or those biased toward Democrat or Republican stances, to be fairly distributed, Ermold said.

Pro-Democratic statements made up 18 percent of references, pro-Republican statements made up 36 percent and the remaining 45 percent were neutral, according to findings Ermold presented to the board.

“The book is generally unbiased, with some bias in each direction,” Ermold said. “It doesn’t add up to 100 percent because decimals were dropped in each direction.”

School board member Penny Vadla said she found the book to be incredibly unfair. Democratic President Bill Clinton is represented as being only known for having an affair during his presidency, and the only reference made to President John Kennedy was his assassination, she said.

If the book were immediately removed from instruction, it would cost the school district roughly $80,000 to replace it, said board member Dan Castimore.

In addition, he said it would take time for the review committee to find replacement material. The disruption to the student’s learning process is not worth removing the book, he said.

Educators would have to be trusted to encourage students to analyze the presentation critically and reflectively to offset the discrepancies, Hilts said.

The board added an amendment to its approval saying the textbook should be removed once district employees find a good substitute and when its removal wouldn’t cause disruption.

Kelly Sullivan is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.