[. . .] light as a feather intellectually, flitting briefly over too many topics without examining any of them in detail. Worse, too many of them are pedagogically dishonest, so thoroughly massaged to mollify competing political and identity-group interests as to paint a startlingly misleading picture of America and its history.Textbooks have become so bland and watered-down that they are “a scandal and an outrage,” [. . .] they are poorly written, they are burdened with irrelevant and unedifying content, and they reach for the lowest common denominator.Read A textbook case of failure which contends that one of the reasons that the USA is falling behind (in comparison to India and China) in producing highly educated, intellectually flexible workers is bad textbooks. US textbooks, the article claims are all about appeasing the ruling political system yielding therefore materials that are shallow and misleading.
Textbooks have become so bland and watered-down that they are “a scandal and an outrage,” the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit education think tank in Washington, charged in a scathing report issued a year and a half ago.
“They are sanitized to avoid offending anyone who might complain at textbook adoption hearings in big states, they are poorly written, they are burdened with irrelevant and unedifying content, and they reach for the lowest common denominator,” Diane Ravitch, a senior official in the Education Department during the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, wrote in the report’s introduction.
“As a result of all this, they undermine learning instead of building and encouraging it,” she added.
Wouldn't this be, to a certain extent, true of our educational system too? After all we have had our share of brouhaha over various textbooks in the past (especially, when a new government came into power, or educational committees changed).
The watering-down of textbooks is something that is even more serious. Take the example of English. My elder brother had awesome textbooks for all his years in school. Three years later, when I reached the same grade, the books were strictly ok - only a few of the lessons were interesting. Today what the kids get to read is only short passages, followed by a list of questions that check basic comprehension.
I remember participating in a teachers' seminar on "Communication Skills" a few years back. This is a compulsory course for all the first year degree college students. The course has got nothing to do with communication skills: Students get a number of reading passages and they answer simple comprehension questions. There's a bit of syllabification and word stress identification. Communication Skills classes have some of the lowest attendances by students -- unless a sadist teacher makes attendance compulsory. One of the many sessions in that seminar was one on how to get the students to attend these classes (and not on how to make the course interesting). One of the participants remarked that she doesn't follow the prescribed "official" books for the course. Students in her college pick up two books for the year -- one fiction, the other non-fiction -- and most of the learning objectives of the course are applied to these books. They also regularly go "beyond the syllabus" and discuss other aspects of the books. She remarked that the college never had a problem with low attendance in their communication skills classes.
I remember some of the Communication Skill Experts (people who had set the syllabus for the university) upbraided the teacher and the college for going beyond their brief -- "The syllabus is prescribed by experts with a particular reason and objective. Don't dare to do things you for which you have no authority."
To which the poor teacher replied, "But we are only trying to make a drab course interesting."
The books in our educational systems too "undermine learning instead of building and encouraging it."