Do we go by (buy) the book?

Many of us will agree that books are special things. They have the power to transport us across time and space, give us insights into the minds of great thinkers, show us the insides of worlds, and provide solutions to problems. They represent knowledge and imagination, and make it possible to hold memory and experience in trust for future generations.

But do all books do this? Do some books limit rather than expand our universe?

When the book becomes a boundary within which curricula are enclosed, then, maybe, it turns into something else – something constricting and containing, rather than liberating.

The textbook, more than anything else in the school system, is a powerful representation of educational vision – or its absence. From the point of how a textbook is conceived, and then chosen by the market, how it interprets concepts, to what recommendations accompany its use and what is expected of those who use it runs the narrative of what we see as (worthwhile) knowledge and our ideas about its dissemination. For many children, the textbook is the only printed material that they will ever have access to and its value therefore lies both in its instrumental role in learning and its symbolic role in the confirmation of literacy and education.

On quite a different level, textbooks also represent a fiercely competitive and stratified market, ridden with its own politics and corrupt practices, with rumours of kickbacks from publisher to school managements influencing development, selection, and prescription. The dynamics of textbook choice are influenced by a variety of factors that don’t always have to do with quality or appropriateness. Of course, the teacher is most often outside (or hemmed in by, as the case may be) this circle, and has little choice in terms of whether she uses the textbook and the role it may play in the examination-driven culture that characterizes most schools.

While the articles in this issue stop short of examining the politics behind the textbook market, they do question the iconic status that textbooks have acquired in the Indian education system. We hear the voices of both teachers and children as they debate the use and abuse of the textbook within the classroom.

As always, we welcome feedback from our readers on issues we raise in the magazine. Do you think the textbook has opened up learning in your classrooms or have you chafed under the burden of its unyielding structure? Does it allow for individual adaptation or does it become a stricture that is impossible to escape?

What are the stories behind your textbooks?