I’ve always had a distrust of school textbooks. Textbooks seem the worst way to learn about anything you might want to learn about. Plus the way they necessarily dumb down whatever subject they’re addressing is always a problem.
Keep in mind I’m not talking about college textbooks, although I don’t like them either. A college-level chemistry textbook might pass on the general consensus about chemistry, and an economics textbook might pass on whatever hoodoo currently passes for economics, but they’re going to be boring.
School textbooks take that boring to a whole new level.
The author of a fake science textbook wrote me with the story of how his book was banned from use in the Houston school system because it might “reflect poorly on the district” and appear to be “mocking the quality of education” in the district, as reported by the Huffington Post, which must be a reputable news source because it also includes such hard-hitting stories as Lindsay Lohan’s message for Obama and Why celebrity divorces can break our hearts too. Powerful stuff.
Taking a look at it, I can sort of see why the use of a textbook with deliberately fake facts might be problematic in a school classroom. The fake science facts could be used to provoke discussion, but to do that the students’ heads would have to be filled with real science facts as well, which is apparently something that lots of Texans don’t want.
Apparently, Texans want one of the best state universities in the country without having any Texan students who know enough about science to study there. Though I suppose it’s possible that it’s two different groups of Texans who want different things.
Seeing that outside of Texas nobody really cares what Texans do, I hadn’t paid any attention to the ongoing Texan school textbook wars, but apparently they’re pretty hot stuff, with people who don’t know anything about science trying to write the science curriculum and people who don’t know anything about history trying to make Thomas Jefferson into a Christian who never wrote in support of revolution.
On the other hand, the know-nothings aren’t always wrong. The NY Review of Books article reports on the know-nothing who claims “evolution is hooey,” which is a pretty stupid statement, but the article complains that in addition to teaching about the peaceful civil rights movement, the amateur revisionary historians also want students to learn about the Black Panthers. I don’t see what’s wrong with that.
Sure, “the board tossed out books by the late Bill Martin Jr., the author of Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, from a list of authors third-graders might want to study because someone mixed him up with Bill Martin, the author of Ethical Marxism,” which was doubly stupid, both because of the mixup and because I seriously doubt anyone on that board could say anything intelligible about Marxism, being reduced to grunts such as “I don’t know what it is, but I know I don’t like it!” Know your enemy, people.
Some also want to remove any mentions of the New Deal as a significant moment in American history. That, too, is just stupid, however you fall on the political spectrum. However, to fault to revisionists for wanting to include “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s” as a significant moment in American history is also stupid.
I also don’t see any problem that when students turn “to social issues like labor, growth of the cities, and problems of immigrants they also take time to dwell on ‘the philanthropy of industrialists.’” Rockefeller and Carnegie may or may not have been scoundrels, but is there really any argument that their philanthropy has had a significant effect on America? All of you working in Carnegie libraries try to refute that.
It turns out history is complicated, but “complicated” and “school textbook” don’t go well together. The revisionists want to turn the founding fathers into a bunch of anti-scientific Bible-thumpers and ignore ignominious history like slavery, and that’s stupid. But it’s equally stupid to want everyone to believe the Robber Barons were all evil or the Black Panthers were all good.
The science textbook debate is more bizarre of course. There might be historical controversies over the importance of the philanthropy of industrialists, but there aren’t really any scientific controversies over evolution, or at least none that would make it into a school textbook.
People opposed to evolution don’t have an alternative theory to explain incontrovertible facts. They just don’t like the facts. Like the belief I found out about while researching this post – young earth creationism – which seems to be held by close to half of Americans. I didn’t know that was still a thing anymore. Apparently half the country hasn’t progressed intellectually since the 16th century.
Regardless, the solution seems to be get rid of the textbooks altogether. Instead of textbooks with necessarily simplistic interpretations of history or science (some more simplistic than others, of course), give them multiple books. Better yet, give them a library.
Last week I wrote about my doubts that most public libraries could support the sort of literary education so important in the lives of Ray Bradbury and other writers, but public libraries, even in Texas, ought to be able to support the education of school children.
I know some large percentage of homeschooling parents aren’t interested in education so much as making sure their children aren’t exposed to any people or ideas the parents find threatening (e.g., science or any beliefs they don’t happen to have), but some of them do have a point.
Textbook battles like the ones in Texas show that plenty of people don’t want their children to be educated. They want their children to believe what they believe, and they want other people’s children to as well.
For the parents who really wanted their children to be educated, maybe it would be better to avoid the schools completely. For most parents, that’s not possible, so maybe supplementing the schools would be a better suggestion.
Supplement the schools with libraries, and when your school district hands out ridiculous textbooks to your children, give them other and better books to read.
For the children caught in the middle of all this, libraries might be their only hope.