What’s the problem with American textbooks and how can this problem be overcome?

THE PROBLEM: The problem with American Textbooks is that they are often bland and outdated. The textbook replaces the standards that the teacher should use to derive original and refreshing lessons that are relevant to the student population. A textbook is a homogenous text that is made for universal appeal. With a mandated textbook, teachers are left to either follow the textbook in full (which is hardly teaching) or assemble their lessons around the required components. A textbook, when used as a primary or exclusive teaching device, is equivalent to letting another teacher (the author of the textbook) into the classroom and puts the primary teacher into a position of student management monitor.

THE SOLUTION FROM THEATRE AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS: Fortunately, both of these subjects have a broader range of choices than the average science or math class. These highly structured fields contain a set sequence of information that the student must master from one year to the next (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014). However, with English Language and Theatre Arts, the instruction has a spiral structure (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014). Students are required to build on past (and similar) learning experiences with the same structure and processes from one year to the next. In English Language Arts, students read texts (ideally in a wide array of genre) and respond to those texts through writing and other interactive activities (such as group discussions). In Theatre Arts, students study a new play each time they go through the process of performance; the text is always changing and the skills build upon the past experience of the student. Both of the subjects are focused on the personalized application and interpretation of the content.

THE QUESTION FOR EDUCATORS: Where does the information for your field live? Suggestion, take a cue from the humanities. Knowledge lives in the student; by capturing the student experience as they interact with the primary source of information, knowledge is formed. A textbook in science can be a reference tool for an educator because it contains the “required information” for the grade level. However, a textbook in Theatre Arts does not exist and a textbook for English Language Arts is seldom used. Further, students will learn and retain more information when the teaching is not exclusive to information processing (a.k.a. regurgitation). Information is retained through a personalization of the information – that is how it turns into knowledge. Lastly, this is how literacy can be build, across the subjects. Literacy must include the ability for one to personally translate, utilize, and generate information within the content. That cannot happen if the information is merely being read, memorized, tested, and forgotten.


Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding standards through powerful content-area reading (Second ed.).


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