The “Authors” » What happens when a textbook has no author?
Part of the problem with modern textbooks is that the books begin with editors rather than writers. As John Hubitz explains, “Textbooks are not written, they’re ‘developed.”1
In fact, textbooks are typically a “collaboration” between editors, educational specialists, and contract writers, often staffed by a textbook development agency, known in the industry as a “chop shop.”2 Typically, “the lower the grade level the more the final product is the work of professional editors.”3
Tamim Ansary, an editor of textbooks for a major publisher, describes the initial process of creating a new basal language arts textbook: “We got all the language arts textbooks in use and went through them carefully, jotting down every topic, subtopic, skill, and subskill we could find at each grade level. We compiled these into a master list, eliminated the redundancies, and came up with the core content of our new textbook.”4
Doesn’t sound particularly original, does it?
Because many of these contributors to the textbook compilation process are not scholars or even experts in the field, they rely on weak sources, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, and borrow from each other. As a result, the textbooks all look alike, and they all share inconsistencies and errors.
Jeffrey Mirel, a reviewer of American history textbooks, “was struck by the textbooks’ remarkable similarities…in structure, organization, illustrations, length, even weight.”5
This process of development leads to duplication of textbook weaknesses and errors.
1John Hubitz, “Middle-School Texts Don’t Make the Grade” Physics Today (May 2003), p. 52
2Gary A. Tobin and Dennis R. Ybarra, The Trouble with Textbooks. (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008), p. 10.
3John E. Readence, et al. Content Area Literacy. (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2001), p. 58.
4Tamim Ansary, “A Textbook Example of What’s Wrong with Education.” Edutopia (November 2004).
5Diane Ravitch, “A Consumer’s Guide to High School History Textbooks,” Thomas B. Fordham Institute (February 26, 2004), pp. 20-21.