Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Controversy in Texas: My Case Against Textbooks

Lately, I've read a whole lot, more, and even more and about the controversial efforts of the Texas Board of Education to include a greater emphasis on the Christianity of our founding father and exclude "negative" words like capitalism, in favor of friendlier terms like "free enterprise system". I understand that people are aghast and upset about this issue because as Texas goes, so goes the nation. Well, this is true in terms of textbooks sales at least. The textbooks created for little Texans are bought and sold to many, many other states.

I'm going to use this issue as proof for my anti-textbook philosophy. I used a textbook in my first year of teaching and have not picked up one since. I find them to be a bit useless and off-putting. I think that textbooks are designed to meet the needs of a general population. I like to believe that my teaching and my lesson planning seeks to go beyond the usual. I think that even when textbooks are created with the best of intentions, censorship still exists. I vividly remember teaching a shortened version of Romeo and Juliet out of a textbook that first year of teaching. Of course, all of the parts that were excluded involved the "good stuff": The intimate scenes between the young lovers.

No matter how hard a textbook company tries to be unbiased and inclusive, there are materials and authors left out. I'd rather compile the poems, plays, excerpts, essays, and other such materials as I see fit. I don't need a textbook to lead my teaching. Plus, I worry that textbooks are sometimes used in place of a larger work, which alienates the reader from the reading experience. I've never curled up in bed with a great textbook. I don't envision my students becoming life-long readers because of a well-crafted textbook.

Plus, the internet allows for a huge variety of reading options. A stock collection of fifteen to twenty poems in an American Lit textbook is no longer the only resource available to students and teachers. Of course, pulling together a wide variety of materials and resources online takes time. We're used to this, though, right? Perhaps this Texas textbook scandal will finally make us all realize that the best way to teach is with authentic materials that are pulled together from a variety of sources. Maybe the days of a one-book curriculum are finally over. Outside of Texas, that is!

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