The conversation about books becoming obsolete seems to be a constant. Still, even after the boom of cinemas, TVs and the internet, books have remained a cornerstone of our cultural and educational practices. While some may argue that kids and teens don’t read as many books as they used to, recent debates about book bans, for example, have shown that the written word still holds power in shaping students’ minds. Criticism over the material assigned in class is not new, but recent years have seen political and parental figures scrutinize everything that happens in the classroom, making educators tread a delicate line daily.
At the core of this book debate are school textbooks — more specifically, the debate centers around which ones should or shouldn’t be assigned, what content they should cover and how they should phrase controversial themes.
Professionals in the curriculum and instruction sector are keenly aware of these book and curriculum conversations. They play a crucial role in helping students gain access to well-rounded, thorough information and pursue topics of interest and passion.
The problem of the controversy of books boils down to politics and clashing beliefs. According to Dana Goldstein for the New York Times, “In a country that cannot come to a consensus on fundamental questions — how restricted capitalism should be, whether immigrants are a burden or a boon, to what extent the legacy of slavery continues to shape American life — textbook publishers are caught in the middle. On these questions and others, classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters.”
In this article, the author compares textbooks from the same publisher assigned to students in California and Texas. Although they are almost identical, there are significant differences between them, with the latter favoring a more conservative view of American history. This disparity can, of course, play a significant role in the way textbooks are used, as it may force the teacher to adopt an ideology that they may not even support.
Textbooks are also a much disliked tool by the student population. Especially after the pandemic, it seems the internet has been steadily taking the place of those heavy and expensive hardcover books. Not only does the internet make it easier for students to find the information they need, but it also exposes students to multitude of views on the same subject.
Finding the Right Tools for the Job
Most educators don’t have a many options for which textbooks they can use in their classrooms. However, there are many ways to properly integrate them into your class in creative ways.
Karen Quevillion recommends the following to teachers in her article in Top Hat: “In the opening weeks of class show [students] you are serious about making use of the course textbook. Post images of it on the course site. One good thing about digital textbooks is that they show the page content on-screen during presentations — but if you are still using a print copy, let them handle it and see you refer to it.”
She points out that an important part of using textbooks includes teaching students how to use them and search for the information they need. Quevillon also gives plenty of tips, including using original source material and integrating the assigned reading into games. Ultimately, she challenges educators to take a holistic view of the course, noting that “[i]f the textbook is not aiding you in your mission, don’t feel bound by its structure. Your course textbook should be serving you, not the other way around.”
All things considered, it’s no wonder that the implementation of textbooks in the classroom may feel daunting to teachers, principals and curriculum leaders. Therefore, conversations regarding curriculum materials and learning must involve expert curriculum specialists and professionals who will take sociocultural factors into consideration.
At Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, for example, the online Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in Curriculum and Instruction – Advanced Teaching Strategies program offers graduates the strategies to consider all aspects of holistic education, including museum visits, technology integration and, of course, textbook assignment.