Friday, February 12, 2010

'Tis a puzzlement.

I've sketched todays blog out twice and didn't like either concept. My subject in question is "TEXTBOOKS." Most teachers use them, the school board normally approves which ones are to be used, most textbooks are old and the textbook budget is overwhelming. In some states and school districts teachers can help in selecting which textbook they want to use. By and large the choice is normally made at the administration level. I don't envy that person who has to make the final decision.

And I think I understand the problem. I was teaching fourth grade--there were three of us at the fourth grade level. I can't remember the woman but the teacher in the next classroom was Chuck (as usual I have changed names but Chuck will recognize himself I'm sure). Chuck was a solid teacher and worked hard at making sure all his students understood the material. Chuck and his wife were very religious, extremely so but I want to give Chuck credit, he really worked to keep church and school separated. I think there was one time when Chuck got his church to help out a family who had a child in his class. It was a gray area I guess but his heart was in the right direction one would say.

If I had a complaint about Chuck's teaching it was that he worked so hard with some of his kids that when recess came and it was his turn on playground duty he would be working with the kids so long that by the time he got out on the playground it was time to come in. I covered for him on sunny days but my disposition on cold gray days wasn't the same. "Damn it, Chuck, you're on duty!" We only had duty about once a week.

But there was one other problem I had with Chuck. OR maybe it was that he had the problem with me. Every once in a while Chuck would come into my classroom with one of our textbooks for the fourth grades. I'd stop going around to my kids and go over to Chuck who would open the textbook and say, "Do you see something on this page that bothers you?" It might have been about Columbus discovering the Americas, or the western movement dealing with the native Americans.... It could also be a page from our science textbook which were pretty bland, batteries, electricity, gases and water, stuff like that. Chuck would hand the book to me and say, "Read it." I'd read the part that he wanted me to and then I'd look at him. It was straight wishy washy textbook stuff--fourth grade level written with third grade words. What did he want me to see? I'd look at him and he would get so upset--"look at the smut there!" I'd read it again and I still didn't see a thing. Chuck would get exasperated and go back to his classroom. Sometimes I would go to his classroom at noon and talk to him about what he was looking at. ALL of the time I could not see what he was seeing. He could see "smut" or "anti-religion" words that I just didn't see.

On several occasions Chuck and his wife went to the school board and complained; they wanted the books recalled. He never won an argument but he certainly challenged the school board on a number of occasions--so much so that the district administration finally made Chuck a kindergarten teacher. Not many books in kindergarten. But even then he saw things in picture books that bothered him but at that grade level it was easier to put different picture books in his classroom.

I liked Chuck and his wife--so did many of the parents of the kids that he had. And as I mentioned he did a good job of keeping religion and the classroom separate. But the textbooks got to him.

I brought this all up today since many of you may have seen the television and web reports about the state of Texas school board having a "to do" about textbooks. There are a few states, and Texas is one of them, indeed the largest of the states, that pick the textbooks at the state level because then they buy the plates and print their own textbooks giving royalties to the publisher. Apparently they save the state a lot of money even though cost for all those textbooks is over a billion dollars. However, cost is not their concern. The state school board is composed of five people. These are the five that choose the textbooks for ALL the children in the state. And from the reports several members of the board want to re-write history, i.e., to show that the founding fathers were all Christians. I am very glad that I am not involved with this debate. But one report says that the argument may go on long enough that some schools will not get their textbooks next fall. I have read enough about our founding fathers that I don't want to get into this debate. But I do feel for those that are deciding upon which textbooks are necessary for use in the classroom.

A few years back I went to a conference in Paris about technology (yes, yes, I paid. Not on taxpayers money) where I presented two papers. Excellent conference. I learned a lot. One of the benefits was the meeting of professors from all around the world. My what a divergent group. One of my colleagues in my field from Russia was a delight and a world of knowledge about technology totally different from the present thoughts at that time in America. It was good to look outside the box.

One of the things that I enjoyed talking to him about was the Russian schools. They take their education seriously and taxes weren't a question. If the schools needed it, they got it. As a teacher I thought that was wonderful. But they have their problems too. I asked which problem was the biggest? And Professor Devosky said that choosing which history was a major decision. Do we tell about Stalin? Do we tell about the negative things in Russian history? Apparently at that time they just left the years out that dealt with Stalin. No mention of the KGB. No mention of the labor camps in eastern Russia. He said that at that time Russia had no health textbooks but they wanted to teach health in the schools--particularly to cut back on smoking and drinking. He said that liver disease was a big cost in the health program.

So I guess textbook selection is a problem the world around. The cost of buying textbooks is a major, major part of district school wide budgets. How long do textbooks last? Eight to ten years. But in some cases, particularly science, the information changes at least every three years. Another dilemma to be faced. What to do!

So I have two assignments for you this week. Double space, twelve point font, inch and a half on the left and inch the rest of the way around. In black type. No handwritten pages. Ready?
1) Defend or disagree (choose only one) with the concept that Textbooks are not necessary anymore. And 2) what was the religious affiliations of the founding fathers of the United States?

If you enjoy contemplating the above assignments, please go thank a teacher who showed you the enjoyment of mental stimulation.

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