Richard Gibson


"Upon the different forms of property,

upon the social conditions of existence as foundation,

there is built a superstructure of

diversified and characteristic sentiments,

illusions, habits of thought, and outlooks

on life in general. The class as a whole

creates and shapes them out of its material

foundation, and out of the corresponding social

relationships. The individual in whom they arise,

through tradition and education, may fancy them

to be the true determinants,

the real origin of his activities."

Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire"

This paper seeks to examine the remarkable research strengths and frustrating political weaknesses of two anthologies, The Politics of the Textbook, edited by Michael Apple and Linda Christian Smith, and Textbooks in American Society, edited by Philip Altbach, Gail Kelly, Hugh Petrie and Lois Weis.

Apple's warning, in his earlier edited piece, Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education, that anthologies are "difficult to do", most surely applies to their review. Multiple authors, chosen for an interesting diversity, create a multi-layered analysis. It is the reviewer's task to identify the threads of commonality yet recognize the complexity of internal difference, to understand and test the cloth as well as its folds.

The presumption in this review and the efforts critiqued is that it is the task of professional educators to join kids and their communities in a struggle for the truth. Anything less, risky as that may be, deeply involved with retreats, compromise and sudden advances as our work is mediated; finding and testing what is true is the mission. No deals. Or maybe just a few small ones.

To the credit of the editors of both books, their works do unite into a greater whole--and make a significant contribution to our ideas about what is true about textbooks. Both contribute to our expanding understanding of the central role textbooks play in the construction of cultural hegemony, alienation and the partisan reproduction of capitalist forms of pedagogy and, correspondingly, world views and values. Both efforts call into question the relationship of the economy, the state (government), imperialism and education. Most importantly, both texts demonstrate practical ways to change textbooks and schools. At issue in this review, finally, is the nature of change.

In translation, this means that textbooks, ubiquitous and seductive, are critical in fixing both teaching styles and what kids learn. The questions, raised by both texts, are: "Where do these textbooks come from? Whose interests are served? What contests, tensions, lie behind the meanings they create? What is their pedagogical impact?". In addition, both editions take up limited suggestions for solutions to the problem of textbooks, particularly those which work against the interests of the people who use them.

The more intriguing question to me, "Why not abolish textbooks?", is neither proposed nor addressed. These efforts speak to reform, not abolition. In their view, there are, and can be, good textbooks---and good processes to go about getting them..

Finally, both texts address the definitive question which sets the background for every form of pedagogy, articulated first by Kimberly Mccullum, "How do I keep my ideals and still teach?"

The two books are remarkably similar, indeed, they share four authors whose chapters are virtually interchangeable. Altbach writes for Apple, Apple for Altbach; J. Dan Marshall and Alan Luke for each. Moreover, both editors risked beating a dead horse to dust--again. The textbook ground is well tilled. (Anyon, Apple, Altbach, Giroux, Heath, Smith, Shannon, etc.) The new editions do offer both new philosophical insights and new particulars. But there are no big surprises here. The authors demonstrate, as they and so many others have, that textbooks are political artifacts, driven by competing interests--ranging from publisher's profits to the pressures of Christian fundamentalism, from the needs of teachers facing forty kids who must pass standardized tests to the inner workings and hidden mechanisms of the Three Big States (Texas, Florida and California) which largely set textbook standards simply by the size of their purchases.

Textbooks are ubiquitous. They tend to simultaneously standardize curricula (outside a specific analysis of the community, kids' interests and the strengths of individual educators) and deskill teachers. So at the same time, common messages (usually racist, sexist, and above all contemptuous of working class people) are sent to kids whose lives often contradict the signals; and teachers are distanced from the professional control of their classrooms. This is, clearly, a key axis of alienation the separation of people, their humanity and potentials, and the product which they cannot master.

The messages from textbooks create false, narrow horizons for the students, teachers and others who connect with them. Seductive in the apparent ease of their use and the authority rooted in their approval from the powerful, textbooks disarm people, deny them tools to analyze and act on their common issues, and construct a sense of totality--of changelessness--which denies people their human possibilities. More, the process of textbook development, from writing to publication to selection to usage, involves a complex and seductive set of relations which allows a shrinking number of elites who control publishing to make insignificant, but apparently formative, concessions to groups who become co-opted. Teachers are involved in selection committees--which essentially give them the freedom to design book covers. Parents are allowed to choose between three textbooks--all of which lie to their kids. Once a part of this dubious selection process, they're induced to defend their choices. This is the architecture of hegemony--the carrot that's often seen as more significant than the stick.

Given that the autopsy of textbooks has been completed so frequently, we can reasonably ask our authors: "What's new? What's the basis of your analysis? What do you propose? Is there a history of your proposals in practice? What happened?" There are truly new insights, in the particularities of textbooks here--and sound proposals for educators to confront textbooks, change them or use others. For example, Allan Luke (in Apple, Christian-Smith) brilliantly dissects the ease with which Catholic schools picked up Dick and Jane basals, changed a few phrases to demonstrate that God is in charge, and put them to ecclesiastical use. The authoritarian, someone-other-than-you-defines-reality- approach hardly skips a beat.

Joel Taxel (again in Apple-Christian-Smith) demonstrates the possibilities inherent in adolescent fiction, particularly in works like that of Mildred Taylor's "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry". While it is unfortunate that Taxel does not take up related efforts which would be helpful in historically locating Taylor, like those by Tess Slessinger, Meridel Leseur, or Josephine Herbst, he does show the dramatic potential of current fiction to address critical themes like the relationship of a sense of history and the stability of a family to the possibilities for resistance to racism. Taxel, though, inclines to tracing themes rather than criticizing the textbooks at hand. What is the tension, for example, between black nationalism and integrated struggle in Taylor's work--and where will her vision take us?

Taxel's useful and practical presentation, too, holds out the chance to take an inter-disciplinary tact with texts. What if, for example, we forged a discussion around Taylor's fiction and historian Robin Kelley's Hammer and the Hoe, a readable and splendid recent history of communist organizing among black workers in the south? This might combine the inner voices of resistance with the record of struggle, to the point, what could be with what's been--what worked and what didn't. Where might Dubois' Black Reconstruction in America find a place in a classroom discussion growing out of the fictional base? How might Dubois' decidedly partisan posture open a discussion about the relationship of history and fiction?

But the oppositional possibilities Taxel investigates here are, importantly, not possibilities inherent to a textbook. Mildred Taylor's works are not textbooks; they're novels. His instructive effort is important to any educator wanting to de-center dominant positions on race, sex, class--and domination itself. But his essay is out of place in an anthology critiquing textbooks.

Christine E. Sleeter and Carl A. Grant (in Apple) initially point to the ground-breaking work done by Jean Anyon in her efforts to demonstrate concretely the contempt shown for the working class in American textbooks. They examine forty-seven textbooks for elementary and middle school, Their methodical work reiterates what most of their readers might guess: while people of color are now numerically represented, the texts privilege white people and their controlling gaze, they treat indigenous Americans as artifacts, and, while overtly sexist language is mostly defeated, the power relationships challenged by the feminist movement are unreported. Importantly, class is simply denied; America is posed as a middle class nation. The instructive and systematic research Sleeter and Grant document might signal conclusions or questions other than those they raise. Is this not, for example, an interesting blueprint of the boundaries which are drawn around the essential issues in society; that elites are willing to sacrifice form (we included your face) and quantity (LOTS of your faces) to avoid the substantive threats of integrated movements rising out of their class base? What of the transmission, banking, (I know this and you don't so listen up--see Freire) model of education which propels the use of any textbook?

Moreover, the pair draw an interesting conclusion following on the heels of a brief which thoroughly indicts the racism and sexism that drives the texts they reviewed, "Textbooks...that fail to educate children meaningfully about America's diversity and its history of oppression should not be bought and used." (101) Is this a call for abolition, or incredible scrutiny; the kind they themselves would be unlikely to savor repeating? Is it possible for America, at this historical juncture of severe economic crisis, to present kids with a history of repression--and resistance?

The historical pillar is held up by Kenneth Teitelbaum (in Apple) and Apple (in Altbach). Teitelbaum documents the experience of the Socialist Party (SP) in the early years of this century who "criticized...the increasing tendency of the public schools to glorify private property, the profit motive, intense competition and individualism, anti-working class attitudes and knee-jerk patriotism". They took the familiar organizers tact of calling tanks the cavalry, and named their pedagogical efforts, "Socialist Sunday Schools".

Teitelbaum, without critiquing the political vision of the SP which led to its impotence, links this approach to Gramsci's tact of creating a counter-hegemony, surrounding profiteers with institutions controlled by workers and culture created by the working class. That the SP in this period lacked the experience of the Russian revolution, which Gramsci could see in retrospect, is not made an issue here. But that the Gramscian template may not be a perfect fit in no way diminishes the creditable contribution Teitelbaum offers in pointing the way toward egalitarian classrooms.

Enormously instructive in this essay is Teitelbaum's exhibit which shows how the SP'S Sunday Schools both adopted, and criticized, conventional textbooks and wrote their own curricula--and what they wrote. Teitelbaum recalls a textbook by Walter Thomas Mills, a socialist scholar, whose vision typified key trends within the Socialist Party, that is, "...the belief that the laboring classes would control the world as soon as they understood it". It is worth note that Teitelbaum leaves this notion unproblematized, and that he goes on to criticize the socialist textbooks as "too economically oriented...,." (157) that is, reductionist, not elevating sex and race to equal ground, de rigueur in post-modernism.

Yet the Socialist Sunday Schools are pedagogical examples which Teitelbaum demonstrates hold key elements that a truly democratic curriculum must address: history is seen as a creation of masses of people, not heroes or gods; there was a strong sense of humanitarian collectivity, the dignity and centrality of labor was stressed, and critical skills to forge the base of "an informed and vigilant posture toward the complex and inequitable nature of the social world." (159) Above all, Teitelbaum brings forward the possibilities that imbue the study of history, understanding whose shoulders we stand on and how broad they were.

In fascinating contrast, Linda Christian-Smith (Apple/Christian-Smith) digs at the possibilities for "Teaching Against the Grain" (See Roger Simon for an illuminating discussion of battling the odds) in the most concrete ways. Like Taxel, Christian-Smith breaks out of the boundary of textbook examination and finds a way to meet the kids where they are: in pulp novels. How can educators take up the fact that kids surround themselves with cookie-cutter romance fiction? Are kids foundational identities rooted in sexist fantasies? If so, how can teachers meet youth at their common interest, and rupture it?

If "Romance reading in no way altered the young women's present and future circumstances, but rather was deeply implicated in reconciling them to their place in the world.," (207) what is the educator to do? Christian-Smith suggests we look at ways to deconstruct the language, to "struggle over meaning".

This call to examine evanescence, what bubbles out of the naming of the actions which fundamentally specify life, struggles around meaning and identity which derive from no particular axis, is indicative of the weakness of the textbooks in review and their common approaches. While there are almost routine disclaimers to the contrary (from Apple's suggestion, "...the removal of the very real material obstacles--unequal power, wealth, time for reflection...p.15) it remains that the good sense of matter preceding the mind, of being determining consciousness is surrounded with a greater (italicized) purpose. "...the creation of the conditions necessary for all people to participate in the creation and recreation of meanings and values..a democratic process in which all people...can be involved in the deliberation of what is important..." (15) Apple, recently accused by Giroux of writing too plainly and thinking too simply (Living Dangerously) in an example of what happens when one cuts the umbilical cord with the material world, is addressing the dialectical complexity of being and consciousness--but resolving it on the side of ideas creating the world.

In a revealing chapter from an insider in textbook publishing, Naomi Silverman (Altbach) makes it quite clear that the bottom line is, "Will the book make a profit?"(163). Yet Ms Silverman then focuses almost entirely on the "tensions...between the profit motive and the individuals who create, promote, and sell the product.." (164). The "quest for profits ..rules the world of corporate enterprise..." (177) but what we shall detail throughout is the sense of integrity that may motivate authors, and the spaces those producers may find to insert honest writing.

Silverman's husband, Joel Spring, follows her immediately in Altbach to memorialize his work as a successful, and often radical, textbook writer. He shows how he has discovered ways to "match a textbook with the needs of the market," (188) yet create an open textbook beyond the confines of what he calls "ideological management". In a truly dramatic and lengthy counterpoint Spring tells what happened to Harold Rugg, a textbook author who, in the '40's, discovered that honesty and openness may not be the issue when confronted with the needs and designs of power. Rugg's textbook was driven from the schools (more concerned with communism than discourse) by a not-terribly-peculiar alliance of the American Legion, the Daughters of the American Revolution, The Chambers of Commerce, and the National Education Association. Yet, the concrete aside, Spring suggests that we can make a buck and tell some of the truth (or ways to get at it) in textbooks.

But is it a complex dialectic? You bet. Spring quotes from historian Howard Beale, "...if any author tells you....that he tells you the truth, the whole truth...He is a conscious or unconscious liar. " (p. 191) But Spring keeps writing--and has a few suggestions of how that can be done, honestly. Presumably it is in the spaces between profits and truth, between the Taylorist approach inherent in textbooks which considers teachers to be trained monkeys and students receptacles, we can find ways to organize opposition. The form and content or textbooks can be defeated by human good will.

Pat Shannon, (Altbach) takes us step by step through the process of deskilling teachers, from the historical base in the early 1900's industrial approach of scientific management which sought to subject school presentations to time and motion studies (echoing still in every academic setting) to the self-perpetuating assembly line that textbooks create once they're in place. Textbooks standardize education, determine what can be tested and how, and pressure teachers to transmit official knowledge rather than examine it. Shannon worries that basal texts inveigle the teacher into a mindless clericalism, never challenging their own knowledge. "As long as I'm a monk, I'll toll the bell". Shannon, as he has in Broken Promises and Struggle to Continue, argues that even the science that underpins this probe is faulty: the evidence points in other directions. That more than a third of the U.S. adult population is functionally illiterate (Kozol) should be pretty good evidence. The modest proposal here is that we "reconsider the policies developed to suit the 1920's..." (229) and shift to "..child-centered approaches and trade books that meet the needs of their local communities." (229) This is one of the few, and very soft, voices in the editions that call for the abolition of standardized textbooks.

Altbach, in each edition, looks at the imperial nature of standardized textbooks as their follow the strings of the imperial system. On the one hand, as Christian-Smith demonstrates in Apple, there are fewer and fewer publishers. Capitalist big fish do eat capitalist little fish. On the other hand, the reach of capitalist publishing stretches into the most oppressed sections of the world, it would appear the more oppressed the more likely the nations are to be dependant on imperial publication and knowledge. The notion of street kids confronted with suburban Dick and Jane is even more powerful when put in the stark relief of international inequality.

Given that the textbooks are written with the over-arching and unquestioned imperial gaze, kids in exploited nations are given an especially perverse yet authoritative vision of the world--one which is clearly not theirs. Altbach forcefully shows that knowledge itself is an imperial commodity, "Eighty percent of the world's R & D expenditures is spent in a handful of the major industrialized countries." (Apple, p.244) Language itself, the particularly immediate effort to abstract experience mediated by a need for common exchange, becomes a thrust from power, "..English dominate(s) science and scholarship." (244)

The more complex the information, the more centralization. Post-secondary textbooks are more internationalized than secondary textbooks, and so on down the line. Presumably, the ripple effect of intellectuals' activity is felt as knowledge presses down.

Digging deeper, Altbach shows that the productive roots of textbooks, paper and printing, are centralized in imperial nations with their own interests. Moreover, "The World Bank, which has invested millions of dollars in textbook programs in several Third World nations, has also used international expertise."

J. Dan Marshall skillfully, subtlety, calls into question the pretense of mediation and neutrality as he traces, in considerable detail, the process of textbook selection--twice, once in Altbach and again in Christian-Smith/ Apple. He shows the deep and systematic ties, the old boy and girl network that persists between publishing houses and key state education agencies, and hints at the potential enticing forms of corruption available to people whose relationships are finally fixed by concern about the bottom line. Marshall has a precise grasp of the multiple tensions at work, from the process which vets the

(usually more senior) teachers who are chosen to serve on selection committees to the buttons citizen protestors have found to influence textbook selection. In his capture of a compelling exchange , Marshall quotes selection committee members who relate the factors that most influenced their choices; the uncritical acceptance of the initial criteria for selection and a remarkable reliance on form, ie, "flip tests" to discover the usefulness of a basal.

Sherry Keith, Gilbert Sewell and Peter Cannon (Altbach), in two exceptionally well-researched articles detail the process of how it is that profit influences the construction of textbooks, from the millions of dollars involved in bringing out a single textbook, to Keith's assertion that "Censorship of any controversial issue or literary work in an attempt to avoid alienating a potential segment of the market is standard practice." ((49) Sewell and Cannon note that "In 1988, the ten leading textbook publishers controlled 70 percent of the market, the top three about one third...By 1990..the five largest...collectively held a 58 percent share." (64).

While there is attention given to this material base of publishing, it would have been more illuminating to take a look at how these companies treat their blue-collar workers--or even to call into question whether blue-collar work still takes place in the industry. Are there any people with inky hands left in the pressroom, or are we so distant from the production of textual knowledge that, like laser printers on a network, the material just appears at the push of F-7 in another work area? Interestingly, in two texts offering up a critical analysis, real investigation of the roles played by the industrial work force is generally absent.

Linda Christian Smith (in Apple/Christian-Smith) does review the impact of technology on the publishing business, more profits, fewer competitors, fewer workers (how many?) at lower wages (how much?) working under intensified scrutiny (counting computer keystrokes?), the de-skilling of the work force and the entry of women at most levels other than the top. Her Wisconsin-style brief, say what you're going to say, say it again, say what you saying in great detail, say what you said; is, if tedious, exceptionally clear and well worth the effort it takes to read. What is at work here is a process which develops its own life, books and technology begin to write people. (see Agger)

What is missed here is the feeble reaction of the AFL-CIO craft unions which represent the once strong and powerful publishing work force. Split buy the AFL's historical strategy of organizing specific craft groups rather than entire sites, split again by the racism and sexism which defined both the companies and the unions, the workers' vanguards were left withering before the technological onslaught, obsequiously making concessions which never saved jobs, and holding back the Luddites in their ranks who wanted to go back to ink stains. The union leaders resolved the time-tested laborers' question, "Which side are you on?", with the wrong answer. In this article, on one hand, we are offered instead a romantic vision of worker's resistance ("massive resistance"...on the part of male printers) and an uncritical view of the unions ("a strong tradition of unionization").

While we are given hope in that women clerical workers are organizing in the once-militant "9 to 5" operation now subsumed by the Service Employees International Union, it is probably more to the point that work site changes in the last two decades have been enacted more through lawsuits and legislative action than sanctioned AFL-CIO action. Outside the fact that the leadership of the AFL-CIO proved corrupt, inept and collaborative in a period of industrial crisis, the decline of union representation from 35% to 12% in the past 20 years can probably be explained by the lessons workers learned in looking elsewhere for surcease. Christian-Smiths concentration on the editorial room, and the need to more carefully examine the point of production, is a telling indication that we'll address in more detail below.

Then comes Edward J. Larson (Altbach) to assure us that the center still holds, the federal judiciary in interpreting the constitution has protected the citizenry from zealots who would turn public schools into recruiting centers for mysticism. Limited by the space of an essay, Larson presents a necessarily cursory overview of key legal decisions which, for example, held the creationists at bay in their efforts to return superstition to school and substitute it for science. It is disappointing that Larson does not locate his argument in the larger milieu. The trend in the public space of school is not, in my mind, to continue the separation of church and state, but to allow a steady intrusion of incoherent and untestable knowledge into arenas publicly subsidized, that is, after-school bible meetings. Those with a legal bent might be interested in the Rights of Teachers, which, privileged by space alone, offers a more detailed, if not as up-to-date, exposition. The more conservative tenor of Larson's piece is perhaps definitive in demonstrating the more restrained presentation in Alt