The curriculum controversy in the state of Texas has drawn the attention of media and political circles around the country. Major networks including CNN, Fox, and MSNBC are following the journey of the Texas school system as they attempt to adopt a new curriculum. The process became highly politicized when ten Republican committee members supported the changes and five Democrats opposed them. Texas greatly influences the material that textbook companies include in the books they publish. These books are used nationwide by millions of students. (Unfortunately, my fine home state of Iowa does not have enough purchasing power to dictate to publishers what they incorporate into their textbooks.) Before you read on, I have three confessions to make:
1. I haven’t studied the proposed changes in depth, but I have skimmed them and read various viewpoints.
2. I think some of the changes that I have read about are stupid.
3. The remainder of this post will NOT focus on those changes.
As I have listened and read about this debate, I have tried to analyze what has caused this topic to become so heated. It seems that there are two sides who adamantly disagree about certain components and language of the curriculum. They have different perspectives about many of the same events, and the importance of those events. Hmmmm…..different perspectives about the same issues, but yet the textbook can’t or won’t include multiple perspectives.
This entire topic brings me to some recent conversations I’ve had with one to one educators about textbooks, or the lack of textbooks. Some one to one schools have eliminated textbooks, and others are soon to make the move. As a former social studies teacher, I realize how scary this would be. I remember how excited I was the summer before my first job when I got my teaching manuals. It felt like I finally had some idea what I was going to teach!
Do textbooks still have the value they did five, ten, or fifteen years ago?
This Texas debate reaffirms my belief that most textbooks should become as obsolete as the film projector. Any piece of information that can be found in a textbook can be found online in multiple places. Online resources will also provide numerous perspectives and information in multiple forms of media. This also means that schools will need to spend some time on digital/information literacy. Lessons about how the same news event can be viewed completely differently from two major networks such as FOX and MSNBC is just one example of digital literacy. Using online resources also provides an opportunity for students to evaluate and analyze in ways that are difficult with only a textbook. Finding information and resources will not be difficult at all, but evaluating the resources will be.
Yes, this will take some time, but it seems well worth it to me. It would be amazing to have students who truly studied, analyzed, and evaluated events as opposed to receiving the information from one source. A starting point may be for educators to use textbooks as a supplemental material to online resources as opposed to the current status, which is the opposite.