The Visual Turn and the Transformation of the Textbook

The Visual Turn and the Transformation of the Textbook

The Visual Turn and the Transformation of the Textbook

The Visual Turn and the Transformation of the Textbook

Excerpt

Graphic design is essentially about visual relationships--providing meaning to a mass of unrelated needs, ideas, words, and pictures. It is the designer's job to select and fit this material together--and make it interesting.

--Paul Rand, A Designer's Art (1985)

Apart from social studies teachers around the country who use the textbooks this book is about, few people may recall how controversial these books were when they came up for adoption during the summer and fall of 1990 in California. History textbooks seem to occupy a place in education that is similar to traditional religion's sacred books. Because they represent our past and the cultural heritage we transmit to our children, the question of whose story gets told has always been a delicate question of critical importance, as the annals of U.S. public education readily testify, and never moreso than now. The new Social Studies Program being considered by California certainly came to fit that pattern. Over the decades such controversies have largely become institutionalized rituals regulated by states, generally in the concluding stages of curriculum reform.

In 1987, California had just approved a new History-Social Science Framework mandating a shift to a multicultural approach in social studies. Certainly more radical than anything that had gone before, the new curriculum expanded the study of history to include greater coverage of ethnic and racial minorities, as well as the major world religions. The Framework boldly integrated inclusiveness with more traditional coverage of Western Civilization. Along with this wider historical scope, the Framework promulgated traditional citizenship education emphasizing America's unique "National Identity" over and above the country's multicultural diversity. Until the appearance of the California Framework, controversy about multiculturalism had largely taken place on college campuses. Yet with the Framework and similar reforms in other states like New York, America's culture war spread briefly to public school board meetings across the state of California, where the textbook's adoption came in question (see Cornbleth & . . .

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