History books belong in the past


The seventh-grade social studies textbook used in Federal Way middle schools contains no mention of the Persian Gulf War, NAFTA or the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Neither do the first, second, third, fifth or sixth-grade textbooks.

None of the textbooks used in Federal Way schools mention President Bill Clinton and the White House sex scandal, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Osama Bin Laden, Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in Southeast Asia.

Some of the books used to teach social studies or history in Federal Way schools are nearly 20 years old. Most were published in 1987.

At Green Gables Elementary, teachers rarely use the textbooks for social studies instruction, said principal Diane Holt.

“It’s a huge issue because the information may be inaccurate,” she said. “I think even countries have changed.”

Instead, children at Green Gables learn social studies by researching, preparing and presenting projects. The hands-on approach appeals to children and allows them to choose topics that are relevant to them, such as their country of origin, Holt said.

Research for social studies projects is often done in the school library, public libraries and on the Internet.

Despite the aging texts, teachers at Green Gables are doing an excellent job of teaching the subject matter, Holt said. She predicts that over time, textbooks will no longer be necessary in many classrooms as the Internet provides a wealth of instantly updated information.

“But I still think there’s a usefulness to books and reading,” she said, adding that historical anthologies are an example of textbooks that would remain useful through time.

Holt said she would like to see the social studies textbooks replaced with more hands-on learning materials, such as geography maps.

Mark Jewell, chief academic officer for the Federal Way School District, acknowledged that many of the social studies textbooks are dated. The main reason the district hasn’t purchased new books is because it is waiting for new curriculum requirements to be passed down from the state, he said.

“It is nice to have new materials, but part of the dilemma is the state has not released the new grade level expectations for social studies... We wouldn’t want to purchase materials that don’t align with the state standards,” he said. “To offset the problem, we’ve looked at a variety of supplemental materials as well as trying out new materials as pilots.”

The state is likely to pass down new grade level expectations next year.

When that happens, the district will purchase new books, Jewell said. Elementary students will be the first to get new books, with students at secondary schools coming next.

Meanwhile, teachers supplement the old social studies books with new materials from magazines, educational periodicals, newspapers and the Internet. Some teachers use pilot materials supplied by vendors who hope the district will choose to purchase their materials when the time comes.

All supplemental teaching materials must be approved by the principal at the individual school.

Current books, although old, still teach students valuable skills, Jewell said.

“There are parts of things in the social studies that don’t change, such as basic map skills,” he said.

PTAs often help out by supplying teachers with money to purchase subscriptions to magazines such as Scholastic News, Time magazine and National Geographic.

All school libraries are stocked with current and up-to-date social studies materials, and the Internet provides boundless access to relevant materials.

Despite the aging textbooks, Jewell said teachers in Federal Way are using supplemental materials and meeting the requirements for teaching social studies.

“We have grade level expectations and course expectations... the materials that we have are aligned with those grade level expectations and those course expectations,” he said.

Contact Margo Horner: or (253) 925-5565.

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