Deep in the Heart of Textbooks
Economics, politics, and religion influence various disciplines inclusive of the field of education. In education, textbooks are produced by major publishing companies who possess the autonomy and authority to decide what content to incorporate within textbooks. This paper will explore findings gathered from my own research about concern with educational publishing, textbook development, and various factors that impact how textbooks are created and the content that should be included. This paper seeks to examine how textbooks are produced in the State of Texas while addressing ways in which this controversial issue and process may influence the rest of the country. It will also identify the problem that stems from textbook publishing in Texas, as well as its constituencies, and who is considered to be at-risk as it relates to this growing problem. This paper then seeks to address possible solutions to this problem and its effectiveness as measured by expert recommendations and statistics. Next, this paper will examine who makes the decisions, alongside the loci of power and control, inclusive of the public and textbook consumers such as teachers. Lastly, this paper seeks to explore the intended and unintended consequences associated with the problem at hand, the relationship between textbooks and politics, possible methods or strategies used to revise policy, consequences, and related outcomes. By exploring the problem of textbook publishing in the State of Texas, this will spark a paradigm shift toward social change that will be economically, politically, and religiously beneficial to the State of Texas, and other states across the nation.
Community Risk and Control
The centralization of textbook adoption has exacerbated the already surmounting criticism certain States, such as Texas, have regarding the State’s ability to exercise and regulate a heightened level of control over textbooks (Altbach, 1991). This fails to allow a key role for the free market to aid in the selection of textbooks in the state of Texas (Altbach, 1991). In accordance with the Association of American Publishers, the State of Texas has more authority, and therefore more to disclose, regarding the content in textbooks compared to other states (DelFattore, 1994). The Texas Board of Education has the power to change the textbooks as one of the two largest purchasers of textbooks that are disseminated throughout the United States (U.S.). Since publishers of textbooks are driven by considerable profit, the problem with textbooks in Texas stems from the adoption of such systems by the state (NPR, 2015). These systems are perceived promising in nature as they provide publishers the hope of astronomical sales (NPR, 2015). This enables publishers to focus on the textbooks moneymaking ability instead of its value from an educational perspective (NPR, 2015).
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The leading controversy associated with textbooks published by the State of Texas pertains to the content of evolution, race, and religion. In the U.S., larger states inclusive of California, Florida, and Texas have highly centralized adoption policies (Altbach, 1991). This enables these states to exercise a significant amount of power within the textbook market (Altbach, 1991). Textbooks play a quintessential role in the moral, political, and social development of students thus perpetuating unbalanced and highly disproportionate economic and social relationships in which social actors are granted opportunities based on class, gender, linguistic background, religion, and sexuality (Altbach, 1991).
From a religious perspective, several problems emerged regarding the content in Texas textbooks. Lobbyists sparked the initiative to remove the short story, “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, due to an inference of a correlation between violence and religion (DelFattore, 1994). This systematically restrains and suppresses the notion that religion can perpetuate violence, which is a false representation of history while distorting contemporary connotations that focus on religious militarism (DelFattore, 1994). Hence, the problem is the censorship of religious, political, and economic views that are not in alignment with the notions and views of varying constituents.
Since the state of Texas controls the content within textbooks, such textbooks fail to provide students required knowledge needed in the 21st century. The problem is identifying which content, for example science, should be included in every textbook. Textbook and publishing companies should not undermine any content teaching, including science and the teaching of evolution. Additional research literature denotes that the Texas State Board of Education has minimized content teaching about slavery, the civil rights movement, and America’s relationship with the United Kingdom. The problem, therefore, stems from textbook publishers’ propagation of lies regarding U.S. society, all of which place students at risk and impact student learning.
Textbook publishing is the most significant contributor to the publishing industry in the U.S., particularly in the State of Texas. Publishers sell textbooks in large quantities to school districts in Texas, impacting the content, information, and knowledge disseminated to students (Altbach, 1991; DelFattore, 1994; English, 1980). Additional findings proclaim that reliance on textbooks limits the acquisition of knowledge, critical thinking, and understanding due to the poor quality of textbooks and their related content (DelFattore, 1994; English, 1980). Textbook contributions monopolize a students’ frame of thought because the textbook content only offers one way in which to interpret information (English, 1980). This is both misleading, and rather disturbing, as students will never receive “real” information, only content publishers decide to include such as economics, history, literature, politics, and science (Altbach, 1991; English, 1980). Another key problem is that what is learned in life differs from what is integrated within textbooks in Texas (NPR, 2015).
Varying solutions have been proposed and utilized by researchers and educators to address this growing problem. Researchers and educators must be more vigilant and demonstrate increased awareness of the cultural, political, and social influences intrinsic within textbooks regarding core subject areas such as English, mathematics, science, and social science. (Hickman & Porfilio, 2012). Educators and researchers aid in identifying ways in which to contest hegemony and authority of textbooks through critical analyses, pedagogies, and question (Hickman & Porfilio, 2012). Hickman and Porfilio (2012) further posit that “through the action research it became evident that the best way to escape from an alienating environment, such as one created from self-alienating views, is to identify the mechanisms of alienation and the consequences of one’s powerlessness” (p. xxiii). As a result, constituents such as the school district must identify how to enhance their authority and their ability to make decisions regarding textbooks in the State of Texas.
DelFattore (1994) offers two solutions for individuals to receive information about textbook content and any modifications made by publishing companies. One being that an individual can access and read textbook adoption records in Texas (DelFattore, 1994). Moreover, the textbook version, and revision, can be compared to the original version of literary work. This allows an individual to ascertain what content was changed or omitted; however, such a process can be inherently time-consuming and quite expensive in nature (DelFattore, 1994). Yet, it should be stressed the significance to be aware of, and recognize beliefs, conceptions, positions, philosophies, thoughts, and views that are systematically supported and suppressed to best evaluate the impact that lobbyists have on textbook content in the State of Texas (DelFattore, 1994). This will allow teachers the opportunity to supplement textbooks with other activities, materials, and resources that will expand on, or include the importance of, content that was previously omitted in the textbook. However, this is not an effective approach due to the personal expenditures associated with buying additional activity resources and the time teachers have to allocate toward gathering supplemental instructional materials and resources for their classroom.
The production and distribution of textbooks is a huge undertaking that is complicated in nature. Texas, similar to other states such as California and Florida, have autonomy in making decisions regarding the content, orientation, positioning, publication, and dissemination of textbooks (Altbach, 1991). Its political embeddedness impacts decisions the State of Texas makes about textbooks alongside major economic implications (Altbach, 1991). A complex relationship exists between authors, publishing companies, school districts, and the classroom (Apple, 1989). The loci of power and control are in the hands of the publishers who control the content contained within the textbook (Altbach, 1991). On the other hand, authors who serve as agents of publishers charge a fee and have very little autonomy of the subject content (Altbach, 1991).
Pearson, a major publishing company, controls once independent publishing companies specializing in school textbooks such as Addison-Wesley, Longman, Macmillan Company, Scotts Foreman as well as Allyn & Bacon, Silver, Burdette & Ginn (Singer, 2014). Pearson’s contract with the State of Texas was significantly more than their contract with the State of New York. This led Pearson to create New York State assessments that adhere to standards developed by Texas Education Agency’s very conservative nature (Singer, 2014). Instead of the examining ways in which race impacts society, in a 2012 standardized reading test for eighth-grade students, a question examines race but as one that transpired between a hare and a pineapple (Singer, 2014).
In Texas, a formal process is used throughout the State which determines how schools and school districts select their textbooks. DelFattore (1994) posit that school boards that have the authority to control the adoption of textbooks within the State are in control of textbook sales, as the largest group of textbook consumers. As an adoption State, Texas provides school districts with a board-approved list of textbooks that they can decide from. This gives Texas the purchasing power while further contributing to competition among publishers (DelFattore, 1994).
Due to the profitability involved in textbooks in States such as Texas, publishers provide Texas with proposed adoptions at an early stage with the option to accept, reject, or accept the textbook only if certain modifications are made to the text and content (DelFattore, 1994). This demonstrates that textbooks must conform to the state’s curriculum. Since textbook purchasing occurs at the State-level, decision making is imperative. Decision making in the State of Texas is consolidated, thereby urging school administrators to set standards for the textbook publishers or refusing to adopt a proposed textbook until the school has the ability to rewrite certain sections that were originally not approved of in the textbook (Barton, 2008). Therefore, the Texas selection process influences the content within textbooks in every State across the nation based merely on the volume of production. This proved that the acquisition of knowledge was rooted in politics, not the education system (Barton, 2008).
In the textbook publishing industry, school districts are responsible for purchasing textbooks that students utilize. DelFattore (1994) refutes those individuals who believe that academic standards serve as the sole determinant of textbook content. Instead, major considerations directly motivate the decisions made by publishers as to what content should be included in textbooks. However, it is important to note that students do not have the authority to select textbooks, nor do their teachers (DelFattore, 1994).
Tending to Consequent Intention
A number of intended and unintended consequences arise, further demonstrating how subject content within textbooks produced in the State of Texas are influenced by money, politics, religion, and eventually the rest of the country. Today, the additional restrictions placed on the content that is allowed to be published has diminished the quality of textbooks. Since publishers are increasingly pressured to incorporate knowledge in textbooks that is deemed acceptable by a broader audience, textbook publishing contributes to the dumbing of students throughout the U.S. (Apple, 1989). According to NPR (2015), Texas textbooks downplay and trivialize slavery and only briefly mention Jim Crow laws due to the more conservative perspective used to instruct students in Texas schools. As a result, students in today’s schools will learn a whitewashed rendition of our history. This hampers students from exposure to what really transpired or allow them to make their own decisions (NPR, 2015). Even when the State of Texas relaxed the role of slavery and other controversial issues, the new standards served as the framework by which publishers could sell textbooks to the second largest publisher, the Texas market (NPR, 2015).
As an economic commodity that is readily purchased and sold across the nation, textbooks are subjected to heightened competitive forces and the pressures associated with profitability (Apple, 1989). Clark (2014) proclaims that the large size of the Texas market demonstrates that textbook preferences shape the content and information that enters and permeates classrooms, not only in Texas, but other states who purchase textbooks from Texas publishers. Publishers are required to create charts depicting ways in which textbooks are aligned with State’s guidelines, which not only increases costs but also places publishers in a position to note that textbooks must conform to the state curricula as much as possible (DelFattore, 1994). Financial implications result in the loss of millions of dollars for publishers if textbooks are not adopted due to nonadherence to suggested standards and guidelines (Apple, 1989; Stille, 2002). The Director of Development for Jones & Bartlett, Dean DeChambeau, argues that “it’s really dangerous that the Texas Public Policy Foundation has so much influence that you have publishers writing to please the conservative right at the risk of suppressing alternative views and critically examining the issues” (Stille, 2002, para. 26). During that time, Jones and Bartlett, a major publishing company, lost approximately $250,000 of potential business (Stille, 2002).
Stirring the Pot
After conducting research, literature posits how research on textbooks is impacted by politics. According to Apple (1989), “since such economic and political factors are all but ignored and since we cannot change what textbooks are now without taking into account the economic and political situation in which they are published, we cannot afford to treat such factors lightly” (p. 282). Since textbooks are more than a mere economic commodity, political consequences also emerge and are of significance. Textbooks exemplify the perspectives, visions, and values of many constituencies, all of which are integrated within school curriculum and filters amid the lived culture of students and teachers in a classroom setting (Apple, 1989). As a regulated product, government policies typically govern decisions as to what content to incorporate within textbooks (Apple, 1989). This is an essential aspect of the political process associating with deciding among demands and assertions made by varying class, gender, race, and religious groups (Apple, 1989).
Meticulous examination of literature also reveals political bias. Texas textbooks contain political bias since they omit information and provide readers with a more conservative perspective (Stille, 2002). Samantha Manchac, an 11th grade U.S. History teacher at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas, states that her first lesson she’ll give her kids is how textbooks can tell different versions of history. “We are going to utilize these textbooks to some extent, but I also want you to be critical of the textbooks and not take this as the be-all and end-all of American history” (NPR, 2015, para. 5). This demonstrates how political bias in textbooks hamper students from receiving an accurate account of U.S. History (Stille, 2002).
Strategizing an Outcome
Identifying a method or strategy to revise policy, consequences, or outcomes begins by understanding the way in which policies in Texas are developed, adopted, implemented, and modified. According to the research literature, the State Board of Education is responsible for setting standards and policies for public schools throughout the State of Texas (Texas Education Agency, 2019). The State Board of Education is therefore responsible for establishing school curriculum and reviewing, assessing, and adapting teaching resources and materials, both of which impact the type of books selected and integrated within the Texas public school system (Texas Education Agency, 2019). Hence, the only known strategy by which to revise policy, consequences, and intended outcomes is to propose a set of revisions (Crocco, 2014). More logical revisions will be made while more outlandish revisions will be not be enforced. Policy will be revised only if changes are made to Texas standards commonly referred to as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies (Crocco, 2014). The Texas Education Agency (2019) notes that policy decisions must be made by all board committees. By changing these standards, publishers will be able to provide textbooks with content that is in alignment with the new standards (Crocco, 2014).
Money, politics, and religion significantly influence textbooks produced by major publishers in the State of Texas. The problem lies in that Texas textbook publishers have the ability to exercise authority and control over the content contained within textbooks; however, publishers must adhere to a list of textbooks adopted by the State to safeguard the textbooks acceptance, and the company’s profitability. Research proclaims that researchers and educators should be more aware, access adoption records for textbooks in the State of Texas, or have teachers compare the textbook revisions to the original version. I recall more experienced teachers saying that the new textbooks are missing information that was included in previous textbooks. In fact, a social studies teacher I spoke with from Texas proclaimed that the textbook was not enough to accurately teach students what should be known about U.S. History. As a consequence due to that fact, she needed to utilize outside materials and resources in addition to the textbook to properly teach her students. The most notable consequence is the whitewashing of America’s history as textbook publishers continue to ‘dumb down’ integrated content. Moreover, Texas publishers who fail to adhere to proposed changes lose millions of dollars in one of the largest markets for textbooks. A set of revisions is, therefore, the only strategy by which to revise policy, consequences, and outcomes as it pertains to the stakeholders responsible for education and the future of our children.
- Altbach, P. G. (1991). The unchanging variable: Textbooks in comparative perspective. In P. G. Altbach, G. P. Kelly, H. G. Petrie, & L. Weis (Eds.), Textbooks in American society: Politics, policy, and pedagogy (pp. 237-254). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
- Apple, M. W. (1989). Textbook publishing: The political and economic influences. Theory into Practice, 28(4), 282-287.
- Barton, E. (2008). Social construction of knowledge. In J. H. Ballantine & J. Z. Spade (Eds.), Schools and society: A sociological approach to education (3rd ed.) (pp. 179-182). Los Angeles, CA: Pine Forge Press.
- Clark, A. (2014, December 1). The Texas school board isn’t as powerful as you think. Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved from https://archives.cjr.org/the_observatory/texas_school _board_science_tex.php
- Crocco, M. (2014, November 26). Texas, textbooks, and the politics of history standards. Michigan State University. Retrieved from https://edwp.educ.msu.edu/green-and-white/ 2014/texas-textbooks-and-the-politics-of-history-standards/
- DelFattore, J. (1994). What Johnny shouldn’t read. Yale University Press.
- English, R. (1980). The politics of textbook adoption. The Phi Delta Kappa, 62(4), 275-278.
- Hickman, H., & Porfilio, B. J. (2012). Introduction. In H. Hickman & B. J. Porfilio (Eds.), The new politics of the textbook: Critical analysis in the core content areas (pp. xxi-xix). The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
- NPR. (2015, June 13). How textbooks can teach different versions of history. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/07/13/421744763/how-tectbooks-can-teach-different-versions-of-history
- Singer, A. J. (2014). Education flashpoints: Fighting for America’s schools. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Stille, A. (2002, June 29). Textbook publishers learn: Avoid messing with Texas. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/29/arts/textbook-publishers-learn-avoid-messing-with-texas.html
- Texas Education Agency. (2019). SBOE – State Board of Education. Retrieved from https://tea.texas.gov/about_tea/leadership/state_board_of_education/sboe_-_state_board_ of_education/”