Sunday, February 14, 2010

Another Reason to Kill the Textbook Industry

The rise of open source content over the last several years has created quite the debate about textbooks and their longevity...or lack thereof. California, along with Texas one of the largest purchases of textbooks, even created the Open Source Textbook Project, and thousands of teachers nationwide ignore textbooks in favor of online readings.

This article, from the New York Times Magazine, raises yet another reason to circumvent textbook industry in favor of varied online readings presenting a variety of views and opinions.

As often happens in Texas, the right-wing has yet again hi-jacked the educational process in favor of its, in my opinion, narrow agenda. Unfortunately, as goes Texas and their yearly purchase of 48 million textbooks, so goes a large portion of the textbook industry.

I'm not naive enough to think we can ever remove politics from education: universal education is, almost by definition, a political act. But surely it needn't be partisan? Whether you think Che Guevara was a freedom fighter or a terrorist, can you reasonably argue his importance to history?

Nor does the right have a monopoly on demagogues. I remember a case in Washington State several years ago when parents didn't want their child reading an assigned book. All they asked was that she be allowed to read something else; they didn't try to ban the book in the school or district. But the ACLU went to court to force the child to read the book. Ridiculous.

When I was teaching English, I actually made very little use of our textbooks, except for a few short stories or poems. I thought their approach to teaching writing prescriptive for such a fluid and recursive process.

The problem with textbooks is they tend to codify a particular interpretation of events as "The Truth." Especially the way students think--if it's in a textbook, it must be right. The recent decisions of the Texas school board rather disingenuously rewrite history from a white, male (Christian) perspective. That part of our history; it is not all of our history.

If, instead, we present students with a wide variety of readings from periodicals, books, etc., engaging them in a socratic discussion of ideas, they can then make their own, informed opinions.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what many idealogues fear.

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