Homeschooling: Do I Need to Use Textbooks?
BY JOHN TAYLOR GATTO
You need to use texts, and the best ones available, because they are the cheapest, most reliable way your children can come to grips with the whole range of human intellect, and how different minds see the world, develop their arguments, and reach their conclusions. Notice I’ve said nothing about the content, the “facts,” these classic texts will contain. With that you are welcome to make any use that suits you for it is much less important.
Textbooks, on the other hand, have been for at least a half-century, and probably longer, creations of publishers or ambitious academics written not for children, but to please textbook adoption committees.
Why Textbooks Aren’t Necessary
The standard followed is almost always what the states of California and/or Texas will tolerate because those jurisdictions bulk-buy for the entire state centrally; hence adoption by either of these assures the financial success of the book. In order to be acceptable, numerous concessions to the preferences of politically powerful groups of many persuasions must be made; hence not only is the information suspect (a Scott-Foresman “history” book in 1991 announced that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Korea), but it has always been politically doctored to reflect prejudices thought/known to exist in the textbook adoption committees. Hence you may read an expensive textbook allegedly written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian upside down and inside out, and in the section on Western contact with Japan in the 1850s, you will be unable to detect the interesting fact that Tokyo Harbor was forced open by American gunboats. Similarly, in the references to Tibet, there will predictably be no hint that a “punitive expedition” under British General Younghusband forced open the sacred city of Lhasa, which had declined to accept intercourse with the West. Or that the international drug trade was created and militantly policed by the British government for at least a century and a quarter – and it fought two wars to protect its monopoly.
It is not only history that is inevitably politicized in textbooks, but math, science (especially science), literature – you name it. I said “inevitably” because I mean just that. Far too much is at stake in arranging the strength and contents of young minds to allow that to occur uncontrolled.
What Are Better than Textbooks?
The answer is easy and inexpensive. The core of your text material should be primary materials, not secondary ones [such as textbooks], and especially not books written by committees for committees. The only utility in reading those, not an insignificant one by any means, is to illustrate their deficiencies. By turning first to the index rather than the table of contents, then doing a graph by number of text lines devoted to each major and minor topic occupying more than a brief space in the textbooks, you will – and your children will – be able to penetrate the code sufficiently to recognize what the book is actually selling. If rockets and space travel, for instance, occupy 180 column inches in a history of modern times, and the economic engine of capitalism only six, even a thirteen-year-old will have no difficulty understanding how his mind is being regarded once the discrepancy is pointed out to him.