Email Status

Volume 11, Number 4
July/August 1995

The Textbook Business

Education's Big Dirty Secret


1930 guidebook issued by a major textbook publisher (still in business today) told American teachers that textbooks were their most important tools, adding that experts "are preparing books of such excellent quality educationally and mechanically that teachers should find in these modern texts the means of solving many, if not most, of their teaching problems." Sixty-five years later, textbooks themselves have become one of the problems. As students' and teachers' needs for sophisticated, complex, and up-to-date resources grow in the modern information age, textbooks have become increasingly bland, simplistic, inaccurate, and obsolete.

Thoughtful teachers have long been aware of the limitations of textbooks, and the quality of teaching materials has become more of a public issue in recent years. But there is little evidence to suggest that classroom practice has changed much since the late 1970s, when Paul Goldstein found that teachers organized more than 75 percent of class time around textbooks: assigning chapters for reading, going over text pages in class, and using the end-of-chapter questions and "suggested exercises" as homework.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

J. DelFattore. What Johnny Shouldn't Read: Textbook Censorship in America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Fulfilling the Promise. National Research Council, National Academy Press (2101 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20418), 1990.

J. Loewen. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: The New Press, 1995.

The Textbook Letter. P.O. Box 51, Sausalito, CA 94966..

H. Tyson-Bernstein. "A Conspiracy of Good Intentions: America's Textbook Fiasco." Council for Basic Education (1319 F St., NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20004), 1988.