Can Textbooks Transform Students?

May 7, 2009


Textbooks have been a teacher’s guidebook throughout time.  Traditionally a teacher uses a textbook to plan his or her lessons, which usually falls in place with the curriculum that the school administrators would like the teachers to teach.  Now textbooks even have connections with state learning standards, making them even more of a resource for teachers who are asked to align their lesson plans with the state and national standards.  However, textbooks do not meet the needs of today’s globalizing society.  Many times teachers treat themselves and the textbooks as authorities on subject matter, forgetting that the students themselves might have something to bring to the table.  The purpose of education used to be to produce docile, disciplined workers, but today this is not what is needed.  In today’s borderless society with diverse cultures constantly in contact both physically and through cyberspace, students need to be able to negotiate meaning within their own contexts and then apply integrated meanings globally.  This is not always possible through textbooks.  Textbooks may serve as one source, but students must be asked to question the textbook and be in dialogue with this information, so that they can recreate what they learn through a lens that critiques the power and hierarchical structures that are often presented in textbooks.  This can be done using political cartoons, newspaper articles, magazines, literature from diverse cultures and viewpoints, websites, blogs, music, etc.  These real world resources help students see the relevance in what they are learning, but these resources should never be seen as an authority.  The students must search and create meaning based on information that they are presented, reflect on how this information relates to their context, and how power plays a role in all texts that they read.  The varying perspectives of our students create a more realistic representation of our globalizing world than a textbook could ever provide.  The challenge is not in what textbook to use, but rather in how to make sure that all of your students’ diverse voices and talents are heard, and used as resources rather than deficits.


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