| Thursday July 24th 2014

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A fascinating look into the way textbooks are produced and how that process is ruining education


The textbook business has been rotten for decades. 46 years ago the renowned Caltech physicist Richard Feynman served on a California state committee for adopting textbooks for high schools. He wrote about the incompetence and corruption in the whole process in his autobiography Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!. Professor Monica MayhemYou can read an online version of the section dealing with that here.

I got a hint of things to come when I overheard my boss lamenting, “The books are done and we still don’t have an author! I must sign someone today!”

Every time a friend with kids in school tells me textbooks are too generic, I think back to that moment. “Who writes these things?” people ask me. I have to tell them, without a hint of irony, “No one.” It’s symptomatic of the whole muddled mess that is the $4.3 billion textbook business.

Textbooks are a core part of the curriculum, as crucial to the teacher as a blueprint is to a carpenter, so one might assume they are conceived, researched, written, and published as unique contributions to advancing knowledge.

In fact, most of these books fall far short of their important role in the educational scheme of things. They are processed into existence using the pulp of what already exists, rising like swamp things from the compost of the past. The mulch is turned and tended by many layers of editors who scrub it of anything possibly objectionable before it is fed into a government-run “adoption” system that provides mediocre material to students of all ages.


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