George Mayo sent a link out on twitter this AM to an article in the New York Times about how textbooks get made. More specifically, the article focused on the Christian right in Texas pushing the agenda of ensuring that the US founding fathers and founding documents are portrayed as being centred on church and God.
While obviously not in Texas, I have been involved in the process of choosing resources that get approved for use in schools in my own province. It’s an interesting process. Manitoba on its own is a small market and we always had to choose books that fit in with our provincial curricula. Most of them came from Ontario. Much of that changed when the Western and Northern Canadian protocol was signed in 1993, bringing together the Western side of Canada into a single area which develops curricula together. This also means that resources get chosen together. While education in Canada is a provincial responsibility, the western provinces decided that to allow for greater ease of mobility among students, and to “ramp up” their buying power and influence, they would work in concert. While their are some differences between the provinces when it comes to curricula and approved resources, they are very much the same.
But what happens when we throw technology into this mix? What happens when teachers have access to information from around the globe? What effect will it have on classrooms and teachers when open source curricula resources coming from many places gain traction and prominence?
One solid historical reason for the development of public schooling across North America was to assimilate immigrants and to assert a national narrative upon a population. When information was scarce, this was easy to do. Departments of education approved textbooks that were used in the classroom almost exclusively as “the” source of story and information. Now fast forward to today’s information laden society where the textbooks are still approved, bought and placed in classrooms. In many places they are still heavily used. But at what cost to learning? Textbooks give one story, one narrative. As much as people may yearn for things to be simple and for there to be ONE story; there just isn’t. Nations are complex places filled with multiple narratives. In Canada, each province has its own story of confederation and how it ended up being part of the whole. There is a provincial story and a national story. Many places have a regional story as well. This is not even considering the perception that people in China or South Africa, or England have of the national story of Canada.
Now throw in a Kindle or an iPad or a sub $500 netbook or a smart phone and the debates in classrooms where textbooks might be present and juxtaposed against whatever can be found online could quickly become interesting. National narratives and agendas become endangered in this type of information based society with continual access. Open global debate and understanding become possible if people are willing to expand where they get their information from and listen to other voices.