Text-books as curriculum

A long time ago I read, “Teachers are designers”. It has taken me years to understand the implications of that simple sentence. As a teacher who has taught across the grades and continents, I have struggled in designing curriculum (as per school, board, provincial and national standards), teaching-learning activities and assessment tasks. It takes a lot of time and creativity, both of which teachers find themselves deficient in! As an administrator, I have empathised with and supported teachers struggling to play the designer of their students’ learning.

So am I implying that textbooks have no place in a classroom? Certainly not! Textbooks are a tool, one of the many learning tools that a teacher/school uses to make students learn as per expectations/ standards. They are based on a certain syllabus but they are certainly not the syllabus. Textbooks are useful as sources of organised information about topics from the syllabus providing many exercises for reinforcing key knowledge. But they distort how understanding of an issue develops, since they present “only the cleaned-up residue”, “a simplified summation of findings”. The school in general and teacher in particular, need to use it as a resource for what it does well and compensate from other sources/ resources what textbooks do poorly.

Driven by convenience and profit motive, it seems that teachers/schools are abdicating their responsibility of designing students’ learning, passing it off to publishers, who have evolved into a powerful lobby. With the backing of the Who’s Who in the educational boards, they have successfully positioned and marketed textbooks as curriculum itself. Some publishing houses are also making inroads into training teachers about teaching. It’s simple quid pro quo, where the schools order textbooks in bulk from a particular publishing house who in-turn commit to train teachers about teaching learning. It goes unsaid that this training is a means to an end, the end being more sales for the publishing house.

It seems that convention has been turned on its head with teachers becoming a resource for the textbook instead of it being the other way round – textbooks being one of the resources for the teachers.