The authors of world history textbooks have become so fearful of charges of indoctrination that they generally "neglect" the development of the democratic institutions and beliefs that have shaped American society, according to a study of U.S. high school texts released yesterday.

The books also tell much less about the basic ideas of Christianity and Judaism than they do about non-Western religions, and often present non-Western societies in a "pious, uncritical" way as if "human failings were not common to all mankind," said Paul Gagnon, a University of Massachusetts history professor who wrote the report.

Gagnon evaluated five world history texts, including those most widely used in Washington area schools. The $110,000 study was sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers and financed in part by the U.S. Department of Education and the California Department of Public Instruction.

Richard Wilson, coordinator of secondary social studies in Montgomery County schools, said yesterday that the report is "very accurate" in concluding that the texts "leave the story of democracy largely untold." But he noted that most of them were first published in the 1960s "at a time when world history was under attack as too Western ethnocentric."

"Now we are seeing a return {of interest in} traditional Western civilization," Wilson said. "I think if they had waited two years they would have seen a change. But this may help push things along."

At a news conference yesterday, American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker said the study was part of the Education for Democracy project sponsored by the union, the Educational Excellence Network and Freedom House, a human rights monitoring group.

The project was launched in May with a statement by 150 signatories, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford, urging that schools drop a neutral approach to competing forms of government and help students develop a commitment to democracy.

"There is wide agreement about the need to teach the background of how democracy developed and the alternatives to democracy and how they developed," Shanker said.

Alonso Crim, Atlanta school superintendent, said it is "imperative for black students" to learn the history of Western democracy and "appreciate the struggle of our forefathers for democracy to come to them."

The five books analyzed in Gagnon's report are Prentice-Hall's "World History: Patterns of World Civilization," Scott-Forseman's "History and Life: The World and Its People," Holt, Rinehart & Winston's "People and Our World: A Study of World History," Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich's "People and Nations: A World History," and Ginn's "Our Common Heritage: A World History."

Gagnon said all of them give too little attention to the history of powerful ideas, such as Greek political theories and Christian and Jewish views on human nature and responsibility. Instead, he said, there is "an oversupply of fact and {a} rarity of interpretation," and the books often become "bland and evasive over controversial issues."