12 September 2007

On old textbooks

A correspondent (who happens to host this disturbing and important site on how schools blindly and blithely ignore pupils' rights) has been in touch about a more benign but fascinating issue.

Do you remember your school textbooks (regardless of the subject)? How they presented their subject was hugely influential on their generation of pupils, and it is a much neglected source for research today.

Most obviously, the implicit values of old textbooks on history and geography can tell us so much about the world-views of their period. Consider E H Marshall's "Our Island Story", which has been reprinted and can now be read on the web.

But what can textbooks in English, Maths, French, Latin tell us about the expectations of pupils at various ages in the past? "Deconstructionist" documentary research in education does not seem to have the profile it deserves. (I am very far from a fan of the emperor's-tailoring of postmodernism, but diluted with a nice cup of tea, the general idea that what has been written says something about the writer's world, is acceptable.)

And put that together with the exam. papers of the era... I would not wish to pre-empt the results of any research, but it's a fruitful seam to mine.

Are there any collections of old textbooks out there? Is there a research tradition of which I know nothing? Are there others interested in exploring this area of research? Get in touch!

1 comment:

  1. I can't think of anything related to school textbooks off the top of my head but I wouldn't be surprised if it crosses over with research carried out in the field of cultural studies, particularly representation and semiotics.
    In design, most studies of old books tend (sadly) to focus on the aesthetics.
    This is an area I've had a personal interest in for a while - having being educated in the 1970s-80s I was brought up on schools' old stocks of 1950s/60s text books that were just lying around. I still have a soft spot for Look and Learn which was reissued recently.
    Even though I was a child of the 70s I grew up learning about a world in which we still had an Empire...

    My current research interest is in how the language in books in my subject area affect student learning so I too am interested in anything that's been done in this area.

    Presumably an interesting approach would be to gather data on different age groups' attitudes to certain topics and then attempt to map them in some way to the text books they used at school...


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