Textbooks and Curriculum

Creation and Use

Textbook Adoption

The choice of textbook that a given school will use is affected by many different factors. Critics of textbooks will say that all choices are at best sub-par. Textbooks are often subject to significant censorship to remove materials that some people may find offensive. In 21 states, schools are also subject to textbook adoption. This is a process where schools have a mandated approved textbook, or a list they must choose from. Approval of books is based on state guidelines. Many aspects of the curriculum are based off of what the students can read in the textbook. These curriculum topics are also subject to review by outside pressure by these same groups.

Pressure Groups

Pulling Left and Right

Pressure groups can have a severely negative affect on school curriculum and the textbook that the schools use. The ability for groups to alter the content of books in order to advance their own personal goals is a disturbing ability. Textbook content should primarily be based on the input by scholars that are as unbiased as possible.

Textbook content began being edited by pressure groups during Reconstruction after the Civil War so that each side were reflected differently. For example, in the South the war was described as the War of Southern Independence. Today, pressure groups come in the form of the "politically correct left" and the "conservative religious right".

Examples of Textbook Censorship

Typically the religious right is concerned with advancing Christian agendas. The left is often characterized by trying to "dumb-down" texts by removing any content that may be offensive any possible ethnic, religious, or political group. Here are some examples of censorship.

- Evolution has been continually fought in schools by groups on the right, where they have attempted to insert intelligent design.

- Stories with peanuts were removed because they may be biased towards people with peanut allergies.

- Stories about quilting practiced by women were removed because women were portrayed as soft and submissive.

- Depictions of a rotting stump as an "apartment" for different organisms was removed because it may be offensive to people who live in apartments.

Does Textbook Adoption Work?

There is no evidence that textbook adoption contributes to increased student learning. States that practice textbook adoption are in the bottom half of all states when it comes to NAEP reading and math scores.

Implications for Students

There are many different impacts on students that textbook adoption processes. As pressure groups squabble for what content will be included in textbooks, it is the students who have the most to lose.

If textbooks are "dumbed- down" by the left, there are significant losses of opportunities to learn for students. Classic books can be removed from curricula because they may have offensive language. Students also face a loss of vocabulary because many different words can be removed from texts.

Elements on the left and right can also remove important content from history and science texts. This can make our children less knowledgeable of the world around them and less effective critical thinkers.

How to Improve the System

There are several potential steps to improve the textbook adoption system.

- Create incentives for quality textbooks instead of quantity.

- Eliminate bias guidelines and abandon checklist approach.

- Abandon readability formulas.

- State officials should abandon practices and policies that discourage small, high-quality publishers from competing in textbook market.

- Reveal names of reviewers and encourage personal responsibility.

- Districts or groups of districts should be authorized to petition the state to add specific textbooks to the state-approved list.