UNC's Wilson Library opens new curriculum, textbook exhibit

Wilson Library’s latest special collections exhibit delves 200 years into the past of school textbooks.

“Curriculum and Controversy: Two Centuries of Textbooks in North Carolina,” the library’s free exhibit, focuses on how literature shapes student perception of the past and present.

Linda Jacobson, keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery, said she thought of the idea for the exhibit after discovering the multitude of Civil War-era Confederate textbooks in Wilson’s rare books collection.

“As I started looking through other books in the collection, I found it interesting how much of a role politics, gender conflicts and social change have played in the writing, publication and adoption of textbooks during the last 200 years,” she said.

Jacobson said the Confederate textbooks in particular caught her interest.

She said they showed how a literary style unique to the South developed in response to wartime anti-North sentiments.

“These textbooks didn’t just teach children how to read and write,” she said. “They served as moral instruction, guiding people from a young age how to live their lives.”

The display also includes a copy of Noah Webster’s grammar volume published shortly after the American Revolution.

Webster changed the British spelling of words such as “colour” and “centre” to “color” and “center,” which reiterated America’s independence from England.

A panel discussed the relevancy of these topics in contemporary education Wednesday night in conjunction with a viewing of the textbook exhibit.

UNC School of Education Dean Bill McDiarmid — the moderator of the panel — said different textbooks often present students with vastly different views of the same topic.

“It brings up the question, ‘Who decided what information got in which textbook, and where did they get the basis for that decision?’” McDiarmid said.

Panel members said students should be thinking independently from what’s written in a single textbook.

“It’s the teacher’s job to present all sides of the story and help students make these decisions,” said Angela Quick, deputy chief academic officer for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Jacobson said the textbook exhibit provides an unusual perspective by putting viewers in the shoes of people from a different era.

The exhibit will remain on display in Wilson until the end of January.

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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