There is no required textbook to buy for this course. There is no course reader to buy for this course. Successful completion of course assignments will likely require considerable reading, but students will select materials appropriate to their chosen issue (topic), rather than share a common text. |
Textbooks are usually not appropriate for an issues course. Textbooks generally take at least two or more years to be published, so they are inherently out of date for any course on current issues. Further, most of the English language texts available on issues in education/schooling are directed to the larger American or British (etc.) markets, and so address American or British issues, which may only be tangentially related to issues in Alberta. Although we can learn from other jurisdictions, Alberta educators need to define our issues for ourselves and not simply jump on every bandwagon that trundles through American (or Ontarian, etc.) education. Perhaps most significantly, if classroom teachers are to be considered autonomous professionals, they need to prepared to develop their own solutions—and therefore their own materials—and not rely on the pre-packaged definitions, evidence, and solutions provided by a publisher.
By the same token, be cautious about adopting hot topics from the media.
Instructor readings and videos listed in the course outline are available for free on the course Moodle site or on the Internet via links listed on Moodle or on the "Topics" page of this outline.
Additional readings, videos, and web links may be assigned by your peers in preparation for class presentations.
Where possible, links to the readings, viewings, etc. have been incorporated into the "Topics" page; note, however, that you may have to go to the class Moodle site to access some of the readings.
Unless otherwise stated by the instructor, you are responsible for reading/viewing the materials listed in the course outline or assigned by peer presentations, whether or not they are taken up directly in class. This course depends on informed class and small group discussions; you will only get out of the class what you put into it. Having an opinion is not sufficient for learning or teaching; it has to be aninformed opinion to contribute usefully to class discussion.
Is Not Having a Textbook an Issue?
Textbooks are potentially useful tools. Eliminating them might create some issues.
For students in this class, not having a textbook might mean:
- less convenience
- more work to find and critically evaluate appropriate sources of information
- more effort to define what the issue is
- more thought to critically analyze the issue themselves, rather than just being able to read the author's analysis
- a feeling that they are getting less out of the class because information was not packaged and provided directly to them
- actually getting less out of the class (if they only put in the effort they normally expended reading a text).
On the other hand, no textbook may mean less expense; more up to date and Alberta/Canadian content; greater freedom to choose a topic that interests them; the ability to access other media, rather than just print; the opportunity to think outside the (publisher's & expert's) box; and the opportunity to focus on relevant information rather than being stuck with someone else's selections.
The Textbook Issue in Context:
I am reliably informed that Alberta Education is currently planning to phase out all school textbooks in the near future as an obsolete technology.
What is Happening to Textbooks in Alberta?
Alberta Education has decided that using information readily available online will allow classroom teachers to provide students:
Alberta Education also sees this as an opportunity to increase classroom teachers' input into resource selection, thereby increasing teacher's 'say' in classroom curricular decisions—that is, allowing classroom teachers to become more autonomous professionals. Alberta Education also anticipates saving millions of dollars from provincial spending by cutting out the middleman—textbook publishers—when sourcing curricular materials.
- more uptodate information than is possible with the current ten-plus-year textbook cycle;
- content more specifically targeted to Alberta curricular objectives than is possible with texts from commercial publishers (who generally target the larger markets of Ontario, Texas, etc;)
- content more specifically targeted to the learning needs of the that particular classroom (i.e., greater opportunities for taking into account the social/economic/ethnic context of each school's neighbourhood, student demographic, etc.)
- content targeted to meet the reading level and learning needs of individual students (i.e., opportunities for much greater individualized instruction)
Eliminating textbooks and publishers opens up opportunities for teachers to self-publish and market their own materials. For example, when Alberta Education included the Acadians of Nova Scotia in the Grade Two Social Studies Curriculum and identified the community of Meteghan as its central case study, there were no available resources—it took three or four years for publishers to catch up with the change and to produce a book or two suitable for Grade 2. But I had Tigana Learns About the Acadians of Nova Scotia up and running that summer. It took me a day to gather the interviews, about a week to edit the material to put up the site. The site has been accessed by Grade Two students and their teachers close to 85,000 times. It didn't cost students or teachers a cent (and I got 'paid' by being a professor—producing curricular materials is part of my job.) A school librarian had the same idea and added her gallery of photos to my site.
If we could do this (with the limited tools available back then—not even a smart phone!), you can too.
If you create fabulous materials for your own classroom, why not share those with others? Sharing your resources is a great way to collaborate with others to improve teaching and learning in the province; to enhance your professional reputation as an opinion leader and creative teacher—and to perhaps make some cash if you chose to monetarize your self-published resources.
Alberta Education's elimination of textbooks might be an issue for classroom teachers:|
- the expectation that classroom teachers find their own resources to replace the textbook represents a significant increase in teacher workload (speedup)
- customizing materials to individualize instruction represents a significant increase in teacher workload (speedup)
- creating their own classroom resources represents a significant increase in teacher workload (speedup)
- publishing their own materials in hopes of selling them to other classroom teachers begs the question of who is paying for these teacher-created resources? Other teachers as consumers?(That would represent the state's attempt to offload the expense of classroom resources to the teacher!); the school board? the provincial government? How would that work, exactly?
The shift could also create issues for the government: Alberta Education was able to control classroom content by providing a list of approved textbooks, but how could they possibly vet what each of 44,000 teachers is using? The last time Alberta Education allowed teachers any discretion in curricular materials (early 1980s), Jim Keegstra used this delegation of decision-making to teach his Social Studies class about the International Jewish conspiracy and to deny the holocaust.
The Textbook Issue Placed in Historical Context
The first public school textbooks (1832)were a collection of patriotic stories and essays, explicitly created as a propaganda instrument to inculcate loyalty to the British Empire among Irish school children.
These "Irish Readers" were then imported by Egerton Ryerson, the founder of public schooling in Canada, with only the title changed to "Dominion Reader". Reading these historical school texts today, it is painfully obvious that the main goal of these textbooks was political, economic, and social control, with literacy a distant second.
From the 3rd Edition of the Irish Readers...cira 1901. Note the depiction of an "Eskimo" in the upper right-hand corner.
The question then becomes, are our current textbooks any less manipulative? When the Alberta science 11 textbooks discusses the science of the oil sands (note—not "tar sands") without mentioning anything about pollution or climate change or native rights, does that represent balanced coverage or does it reflect the agenda of particular lobby groups? Looking back, the bias in the Empire Readers is obvious because the next generation always sees things differently. But can we spot the biases in textbooks when they are current, and especially when they are our biases too?
Similarly, in America, textbooks were adopted to standardize what children were being taught. Before authorized textbooks conveniently brought together a variety of relevant materials, itinerant teachers taught from whatever three or four books happened to be in their knapsacks—plus the bible, of course, which was readily available wherever they traveled. Taking control over books (curricular material) away from teachers was considered the first step in professionalizing education. But how professional are teachers really, if they have no say?