"Before textbooks are sold nationwide, they have to meet the demands of big markets, like Texas. And in the Lone Star State, textbook reviewers wield a lot of of influence..." -- opening of recent article in Teacher Magazine.
There is always "the rest of the story", as Paul Harvey once said.
And in the world of public education, there is always a story behind the story...something that is so 'right in front of you' yet somehow isn't really talked about or discussed or even of interest even if it really matters. Public schools are not-for-profits, or at least 'public', and yet the high-stakes of corporate vendors/'partners' whether it be milk or pencils or copier ink cartridges makes that seem relative.
I often get excited or drawn into the Web2.0 discussions and the authoring content side of being a student in the future, but it is good to reminded that the vast majority of kids in schools today (and for a bit to come) will use textbooks. Big ol' textbooks. The kind you were both not supposed to write in and also supposed to write your name inside it's hard front cover.
This story -- "Chapter & Verse" -- from the 1/2.05 issue of Teacher Magazine reminds us all that 'information' doesn't come from a neutral resevoir, no matter what side of the issue or viewpoint you might hold.
Here's how it starts out:
Neal Frey reads textbooks for a living, a job he finds singularly fulfilling. He does not own a television, a credit card, or even a wallet, preferring instead to carry his driver’s license in the front pocket of his oxford shirt. He has very few hobbies. He cannot remember the last time he read a book for the fun of it. After sifting through mountains of written material day after day, on subjects ranging from the fossil record to sexually transmitted diseases, by the time he comes home, he’s usually all read out.
This is where it gets interesting. Where one realizes that this man is built from different cloth:
Frey reads textbooks differently from the way most people did when they were in school. He combs through them line by line, recording page numbers and making observations on how their contents compare with his own set of written criteria. On a good day, he might make it through 50 pages. His mentor used to tell him it was better to write nothing about textbooks than to make nine strong points and one weak one. He lives by those words today.
On the one hand, one wonders about biases. On the other hand, one is thankful someone cares enough to go after them.
For more than two decades, Frey has labored on behalf of Educational Research Analysts, a conservative Christian textbook-reviewing organization in Longview, Texas, founded by the famously outspoken husband-and-wife team of Mel and Norma Gabler. Since the early 1960s, the organization has sought to rid textbooks of factual errors, perceived liberal bias, and what its reviewers otherwise deem inappropriate content, mostly by exhorting publishers and state officials to make the changes they want. When Mr. Gabler died in 2004 at age 89, and Mrs. Gabler grew ill, it fell to their friend and protégé, the 61-year-old Frey, to keep the reviews coming.
As one of his proponents (Dan Quinee, a spokesman for the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network) offered the following in reaction to Frey's work:
“In the end, who’s getting hurt here? The kids. They’re not getting textbooks based on facts. They’re getting books based on somebody’s ideology.”
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm NOT (let me repeat this -- I'm NOT) offering this article up as a pro- or anti-religious rant. I think the article makes a significant point of making it 'the point' (on some levels), but for me its about something else. Something both less important and also deeper. Again, don't get me wrong. Seriously...
Information is not neutral. Or more importantly, the information that schools offer up to students is not neutral. Impossible to be when humans review, select, and edit the information before it's offered up in the first place. At least when it comes to textbooks -- single sources that are supposed to possess the beginning, middle and end of all relevant facts pertaining to one's education.
But in this day and age, I just can't help but wonder how relevant textbooks are. More than the 'cost' of publishing and editing and distributing and protecting. But with regards to the info itself. This article reminds me of that. It talks about much more, but for me it's about the info itself...for better or worse...without regard for one bias or another.
I can't help but feel that if we don't arm (poor word choice, but it makes a point) our kids/students with the ability to ask better questions, to seek biases (on all sides), to re-frame assumptions, then they will be at best passive recipients of the future rather than strong, dynamic, and critical members of the world that is coming.
I'm curious what others think...