The Problem with textbooks

Few people outside of the field of education are aware of what has happened to the textbook industry. A small percentage of parents who take an active role in their children’s education have some idea, and perhaps some politicians who are involved  in education know a bit as well. While many in academia see the downward spiral of textbook quality, few are speaking out about it.

The trends in textbook publishing affect all levels of education, from preschool to postgraduate studies. Public and private schools, rich and poor, urban and rural, all draw from the same pool of textbooks. They have little choice in the matter; the textbook industry has gone through the same relentless wave of consolidation as almost every other industry over the past few decades.

The textbooks I am most familiar with are ESL (English as a second language) books since that is the subject I am currently teaching. However, I have looked closely at my students’ textbooks for their biology, physics, chemistry, history, and health classes, and I see the same design and content changes occurring everywhere.

First, the overall dumbing down of the texts is undeniable. One rarely encounters a word that requires  a dictionary to understand. In the secondary school texts, the lexical, grammatical, and syntactical level seems to be stuck at around the 6th grade. At the university level, it’s not much better.

Much of the content presented in modern textbooks is thinly disguised corporate propaganda. Textbook publishers are reluctant to divulge how much of textbook content is taken directly from corporate sources, but we can be sure it is substantial. Corporations are known to write entire and complete legislative bills which they hand to congress for approval.  Corporate lobbyists write speeches for politicians. Transnational corporations now control everything of value on the planet, so it follows that they are writing textbooks as well. Some of this corporate propaganda is subtle and woven into the content unobtrusively.  In some chapters, the propaganda is more blatant, such as when biology texts discuss GMOs. Monsanto definitely has its dirty hands in the education field.

Besides the obvious propaganda pushing GMOs , Darwinian evolution, quantum physics, and space exploration, there’s also the social engineering type of brainwashing. This includes the celebration of rampant consumerism, transgenderism, homosexuality, multiculturalism, hi-tech, celebrity culture, shopping, social media, and general superficiality. Parents who have not looked at an English textbook for 20 or 30 years would  be appalled at what they see. Nearly every page of the ESL text which I used for a recent course discussed one of those subjects. Consumerism and high-tech gadgets such as smartphones are especially popular topics for learning. The not-so-subtle message being taught to students, outside of the embedded grammar lesson, is this: The only meaning you can derive from life is through shopping, consumerism, acquisition, and the acceptance of a multicultural and inclusive world. The only pictures one sees on the pages are photos of models,  smiling and joyful in their sleek modern offices, making loads of money which they will spend in fancy restaurants and department stores.  Traditional families are absent. Pictures of rural life are nearly absent as well. The world is presented as one giant playground, basically. It’s filled with exciting and exotic cities which  you can visit on your next ‘holiday,’ and return home with giant shopping bags filled with the loot you collected overseas. Oh, the joys of being a yuppie! That, essentially, is the dream being sold. Everyone can be a rich yuppie, living in a high-rise in some ‘bustling’ metropolis.

Every page of modern textbooks must have a photo. On some pages, more than 50 percent of the total space is filled with photos. The people in the photos are utterly fake. Most of them are models. They looks about as real as a GMO tomato. They’re always smiling and laughing, of course. They’re always attractive. They always seem to be on holiday. They’re usually talking on their smartphones and striding confidently to their next high-powered business meeting.

Do these photos contribute anything to the lesson being taught? Do they enhance the subject matter or clarify important points? No, they do not, not in the least. They’re just filler. Publishers insert them because they claim that students will not look at a page filled only with text. Actually, the publishers are correct when they state this. I once gave my students a book to read. It had no pictures. They gasped audibly and complained loudly and bitterly to me. How could they possibly read a book with no pictures? It would be so boring….

We must ask, though, how our kids became so frightened and/or bored with a page of text. Television and computers deserve the bulk of the blame, but parents and educators have done too little to instill a love of reading to students. Education publishers help to create this problem, and then turn around and state that they are merely responding to market demand.

The hundreds or thousands of photos placed into a typical textbook today drives up the cost of the text enormously. The expensive and glossy paper on which the photos are placed is considerably more pricy that simple paper for text. Moreover, it’s not just lots of unnecessary, ugly, and fake photos that one sees on textbook pages. Graphic designers now play a role even more important than content writers. Every page must be a different color. Oh, yes. Pages must be multi-hued with flashy background themes. Black text on white background, white text on black background, green on black, blue on yellow-whatever. Every page must now resemble a website. Many pages are so repulsive to look at that I ignore them when working through a chapter. I don’t want my students to look at something so ugly and so manipulative.

Students coming up through the system today have no idea that textbooks used to be different. With their immaturity and lack of perspective, they naturally assume that things have always been this way. They are unaware that students used to read books with no pictures! And sometimes those books were hundreds of pages long, and filled with highly technical details.

In conclusion, I regard modern textbooks as abominations. They are filled to overflowing with shameless propaganda, touting GMOs and transhumanism, among other things. Their slick and glossy pages, designed by well-paid graphic designers, are all about style, not substance. Content has now receded into the background. Actual text now coves less than half of most pages and the lessons are presented in small doses so as not to stretch students’ minds too much.

 

 

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