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MSNBC has a really interesting article today about textbooks, the process through which they are written, published and selected in the United States, and the forces that control their content. It's an amazingly political process wher the real control is in the hands of a very small number of people on the Texas and California school boards. This has actually been true for decades. Texas and California are the largest markets for students, so textbook publishers make sure that their textbooks meet those standards and all the other states are forced to choose from the available textbooks without any real choice.

Technology can't solve this problem directly, in that the gating factor isn't the cost or distribution of the books; the problem is the direct control over approving content in the hands of a very few. But what it can do is give teachers and students a wealth of supplementary information that they can use in addition to the textbook -- or in some cases instead of a textbook.

I would be interested to hear how primary and secondary schools in other countries deal with these issues. I know that in higher education, textbooks have a less central role outside the U.S. than they do here.



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    Chris Williams

    My mom taught public school for 35+ years and she ran into this problem all the time. Unfortunately technology (i.e. the internet) wasn't prevalent for all but the last 10 years of her career (and only the last 2-3 years in the county she taught in.)

    As a teacher in the primary grades (in a rural county), she often had little or no budget for supplemental materials and would spend her own money (when she could afford to) in order to supplement the lessons.

    Whoever was in charge at the time (at the principal and schoolboard levels) also had a direct impact on how much freedom she had to augment the textbooks. Generally speaking though, there wasn't much freedom at all.

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