Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In which textbooks are all that is wrong with education.

I had two main questions when I read this post on homeschoolers getting tricked by science textbooks that teach that evolution isn't real:
  1. Why is it so obvious to Amanda Marcotte that "Christian" automatically means "not believing in evolution"?
  2. Why the fuck are homeschoolers using textbooks -- let alone textbooks they haven't read -- to teach science?
Almost all the reasons for homeschooling -- good and bad -- relate to not believing in technocracy as a way of making decisions about education. Whether we worry about biology classes reinforcing gender binaries or teaching evolution, whether we get pissed about the lack of classes aimed at our baby geniuses or object to the lack of good teachers and resources for remedial and special ed classes, whether we hate that white people don't get their own history month or that every month is white history month, homeschooling is about the realization that training and degrees do not guarantee good teachers and administrators.

Basically, a lot of this is about the realization that curricular, discipline and organizational issues in schools are political issues, not administrative ones. There are legitimate questions to be raised about the priorities shown in our curricula, and certification doesn't guarantee that people will share our priorities. Homeschooling is one way of democratizing those decisions, claiming the right to set priorities for our own children.

The same thing applies to science textbooks. Christian or not, textbook authors don't necessarily share your priorities. Relying on someone else to decide the shape of your child's curriculum totally reaffirms the notion we started out rejecting, that educational decision-making is something that should be done by experts.

Also, the textbook itself -- regardless of where it comes from -- is an embodiment of the monolithic, uniform education system that we rejected when we took our kids home. Of course, it's true that some homeschooling parents want a monolithic, uniform educational system, just a different one from the one that currently exists. But I think at least most of the non-fundamentalist ones are doing this because they recognize that there should be more room for kids to be different, learn different things in different ways and at different speeds.

Does that sound like the kind of learning you get from a textbook?

If you're not relying on a single source for your kid's science knowledge, it doesn't matter if some of it is anti-evolution, anti-scientific stuff. Let them figure out what they agree with. If you're not looking for textbooks -- that is, books that claim to account for all the knowledge about US history you'll ever need -- there are a lot of books written for lay audiences by real scientists (Richard Feynman and Stephen Jay Gould come to mind).

Amanda talks rightly about how "I think a lot of people defend evolutionary theory for the wrong reasons---not because they understand it, but because they (correctly) perceive the pro-ignorance, patriarchal bent of fundamentalists who oppose evolutionary theory." Even for such people, your kids don't have to be that kind of people. Let them read that textbook, and take it seriously, and then read some scientists too.

Teachers' job isn't -- can't be -- to tell kids what to think. It's to hold beliefs, both their beliefs and the beliefs of others, up to scrutiny, and give students the tools to make their own decisions. That's not what textbooks are about. Stop using them. Just stop.

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