Textbook Publishing, Textbooks, and Democracy: A Case Study

By Pinto, Laura Elizabeth | Journal of Thought, Spring-Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Textbook Publishing, Textbooks, and Democracy: A Case Study


Pinto, Laura Elizabeth, Journal of Thought


Introduction

Widely used by teachers, textbooks interpret curriculum policies in a way that reflects the views of authors, publishers, and reviewers. Their content implies what knowledge and skills students ought to achieve. Often, "hidden" aspects of textbook content are overlooked. There are features of the publishing industry and of the textbook development process that can result in a situation that filters out depth of content and controversies in favour of conventional values, concepts and thinking. At the present time, three publishers produce over 90% of textbooks for Ontario secondary schools. This gives them enormous power as interpreters of the curriculum, while limiting the curriculum resource choices that teachers have. Moreover, four salient features of the textbook development process contribute to a filtered view. This filtered view has two characteristics: a hidden curriculum (i.e., implicit values that reflect dominant and hegemonic ideologies) and a presentation of information (i.e., explicit content) that is superficial and limited. When students interact with textbooks in uncritical ways, the result may be nothing less than indoctrination. Such indoctrination can produce "dogmatic, closed-minded graduates" (Lammi, 1997, p. 10) with limited cognitive views which are at odds with autonomy in the classroom and inconsistent with a democratic vision of education.

Scope

This paper will focus solely on the secondary school context in the province of Ontario after 1998, when new curriculum policy was introduced across the province. I will not attempt to perform content analysis of textbooks but will instead draw historical data on changes in the industry and on my experience as an author to describe the publishing industry and provide an account of the textbook development process. For the purpose of this paper, the term textbook will be defined as a bundle of curriculum artifacts, designed for use by teachers to deliver a course. It typically consists of

* a "student edition" of a book which is a traditional textbook designed to be used by students;

* a teachers' guide (TG) which provides suggested instructional strategies in the form of lesson plans explaining how to use the student edition, black-line masters that can be photocopied and used with students, and assessment instruments (e.g., rubrics, tests, etc.); and

* an accompanying website to provide information and/or links for students and teachers.

Background: Use of Textbooks

Dove (1998, p. 24) describes textbooks as "the primary means of communicating information and instruction to students." A variety of studies--most of them done in the USA--suggest that somewhere between 60% and 95% of classroom instruction and activity are textbook-driven (see Dove, 1998; Schug, et. al. 1997; Zahorik, 1991; Apple, 1991; Moulton, 1994; and others). Rozycki (2001) speculates that efficiency is the primary appeal of textbooks--they provide content that would be too vast in scope for a teacher to gather on her own. Schug et al. (1997) found that US teachers surveyed reported the primary motivations for using textbooks are: their usefulness in planning courses and lessons and value of the "ancillary materials" (e.g., handouts, display materials) provided with textbooks. My experience suggests that textbooks are also appealing because, unlike other materials, they do not require daily photocopying.

Approaches to Textbook Use

Apple and Christian-Smith (1991) describe three ways to respond to, or interact with, texts: (1) dominated; (2) negotiated; and (3) oppositional. Though these three approaches are applicable to any text, for this paper I will consider them specifically as they relate to textbooks, which are indeed a form of text. In the dominated approach, the reader accepts the message at face value. In a classroom context, this would involve positioning information in the text as "fact" and not seeking alternate perspectives nor questioning the content and its underlying assumptions.

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