To Switch or not to Switch: The Textbook Debate


Textbooks are often a source of debate among students and teachers across high school and college campuses. As culture and language constantly evolve, issues concerning terminology, imagery, and content often arise and lead to public pressure to replace old books with more up-to-date, inclusive material. Issues of inclusivity are especially important when considering history textbooks, wherein marginalized groups or perspectives have historically been left out or ignored. 


Here at Seabury Hall, our AP United States History (APUSH) class requires students purchase The American Pageant, 16th edition. However, in the upcoming 2023-2024 school year, the history department is considering switching to the 17th edition, which was released in 2018 or an entirely new book. To understand some of the changes between The American Pageant editions, the regular track United States History class analyzed the chapter inserts between the two books. They found the main difference in the newer edition to be a change in language. The 17th edition is slightly condensed, one chapter shorter than the 16th. They found 58% of the chapter titles have been revised, 60% of the sections are different, and some terminology has been updated, such as replacing the term “Indians” with “Native Americans” to refer to the indigenous peoples of the American continents. Throughout the 40 revised chapters, 60% of the chapter inserts include perspectives from people of mixed or multiple ethnicities, with white Europeans making up 23% of the chapter inserts and both African and African-American making up 12%. Additionally, 40% of the perspectives centered around men, only 12% were exclusively about women and about 33% were mixed. There is no manual for “adequate inclusion”. No consensus on who should be represented and how often. This is one of the challenges of finding the most representative textbooks.  


Mr. Leblanc elaborated on the possible switch to the newer edition, explaining that “Representation is a valid concern [and] is one of many reasons for switching”. Originally written and published in the 1950’s, The American Pageant has been around for the better part of the last century. And although the textbook has been updated over the years, questions about adequate and inclusive representation remain. The 16th edition has been in use at Seabury Hall for about a decade already, which Mr. LeBlanc pointed out is a benefit to students but also raises some concerns. Textbooks are handed down to siblings and friends, a system that benefits underclassmen who can purchase the books cheaper and which many students have come to rely on. 


After talking to a mix of sophomores and juniors, the main concern students expressed was a frustration about not being able to resell or find cheap textbooks for the next school year. When it comes to the actual material in the textbooks, responses are varied. Some students feel indifferent about the textbook debate. Those in favor of changing the textbook argue that as language is always evolving so should our reading material, whereas others either don’t see the value of updating our textbooks or don’t think it is worth the hassle. However, both sophomores and juniors expressed frustrations with how the textbook switch would affect them personally. Not being able to resell their textbooks to underclassmen is disappointing to some juniors, who feel like the new edition, only two years younger than the last edition, is barely different. Additionally, sophomores who were expecting to buy used textbooks for cheap or inherit books from older siblings may now have to buy new textbooks, as well as a price tag they aren’t too happy with. 


Despite initial frustration, a possible textbook change isn’t the only thing students should worry about. Some students worried that since the 17th edition is one chapter shorter, they may be missing necessary information needed for the final exam. Since the history department has been using the 16th edition, however, the format of the AP exam has also changed. Widely regarded as the best AP US history textbook largely because of the quantity of supplementary material, the newer edition of the American Pageant corresponds to the newer exam, and could better prepare students for their AP test. 


What is your opinion on the potential switch? Are you for it or against it?