History of the textbook

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					The History of the Textbook
       In Education

                            By: Glenn Goslin
                            For: Brian Lamb
                         Date: June 29, 2008
                        Course: ETEC 540
                        Section: 66B

Textbooks are as universal as formal schooling and almost as old. They have been used to
aid teaching, and in some cases, to be the teacher for centuries. Textbooks are not just
teaching and learning objects but are political documents that hold content that reflects
the vision of a specific group (Encyclopedia of Education, 2008a).
Although the presentation has changed, the main goal has remained the same; to help
build the platform of knowledge for students.

Definition of the Textbook

The definitions for Textbooks are wide and varied. One common definition is that a
textbook is a printed and bound artefact for each year or course of study (Encyclopedia of
Education, 2008b). They contain facts and ideas around a certain subject.

Textbooks are not like other books. Today, textbooks are assembled more than they are
written. They are not usually written by a single author, nor are they a creative and
imaginative endeavour. They are, in fact, usually specially made by a corporation to
follow a set standard curriculum for a school system or larger organization, such as a
province (Encyclopedia of Education, 2008b).

History of the textbook

Records in history have shown that as long as writing and some form of schooling has
existed, textbooks have also been present in one form or another. They have been printed
on such media as clay tablets, scrolls and papyrus up to bound, mass produced books
(Encyclopedia of Education, 2008a). The earliest known textbooks up to a period in the
16th Century were written in Latin, the common language of schooling and scholars.
These textbooks were probably developed to help students to learn the language Latin.
These students probably had learned basic reading and writing of the language, but were
not ready for reading of long passages (Ellsworth, Hedley, and Baratta, 1994). These
early passages for education were probably from the Bible and some poetry.

There are records of textbooks being used in ancient Greece, Rome, China, India, Egypt
and other early societies (Encyclopedia of Education, 2008a).Aristotle created textbooks
for numerous subjects specifically for educational processes, such as instruction
(Ellsworth et al., 1994).

In the fifteenth Century printing presses with movable type were invented. Books could
now be reproduced quickly and easily. Before this textbooks were rare and only available
to a minority of people, generally the affluent. This rarity was partially due to the fact that
these books had to be hand made. The ability to mass produce books opened up schooling
to many more people, creating an increasing loop of higher demand for books.

During the time of colonization, textbooks were imported from the mother country and
taught as facts for the new territory, even if the facts did not match the history of the
region. These texts served in part, as a form of indoctrination to the history of the mother
country. However, when these territories have gained independence, becoming nations
through revolution or their succession from the colonizing country, they have changed
their textbooks to reflect their new realities (Encyclopedia of Education, 2008a). For
example, when Canada became an independent nation, textbooks were changed to meet a
popular Canadian view that the War of 1812 was won in fact by the Canadians, not the
British or Americans since they had successfully defended the border from invasion from
the United States (Encyclopedia of Education, 2008a).

For several centuries elementary textbooks were undifferentiated by age or grade level
and were used mainly to aid in memorization. They were created to help the school
system when there were few trained teachers or even proper teacher training. By making
the textbook the ultimate authority, there was little need to have the teacher exhaustively
trained to know the subject matter.

Pedagogy of Textbooks

Throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, textbooks were used mainly as a static means to
teach curriculum. The printed textbook has been the means with which knowledge is
organized and distributed. They have served to gather a body of knowledge, a mechanism
for introduction to learning and as a reference material (Bierman, 2006).

For at least a thousand years, the goal pedagogically for textbooks and school was the
memorization of definitions, rules or other facts (Wakefield, 1998). In fact, for quite a
long period, textbooks were undifferentiated by age. This allowed for older students to
help younger ones, rather than a teacher who may have to work with students from very
low grades to upper grades having to attempt to reach each grade level individually.

As time has passed, the textbook has become further entrenched in the educational
system. However, current pedagogy has shown a further trend towards more balanced
methods of instruction that still include the textbook.

The Present of the Textbook

Although there are many other learning materials available in this period, research in
wealthy nations shows that the vast majority of teachers still continue to rely heavily on
the textbook as their core teaching resource (Encyclopedia of Education, 2008b). This is
in spite of the fact that the majority of textbooks still have a prescribed style of
presentation and knowledge base that is in stark contrast to many advances in
pedagogical research, such as Multiple intelligences, personalization of learning and
Universal Design for Learning.

However, there is a movement towards understanding of knowledge to take the place of
memorization. While lessons derived from textbooks may continue to dominate the
classroom, much of the time these are augmented and coordinated with a full set of
learning materials, such as audio and visual files, graphics, exercise books and computer
access materials. These so called “learning packages” are replacing the basic textbook in
many cases (Encyclopedia of Education, 2008b). Even while using basic textbooks, most
of these now have an objectives section, to aid student in understating what knowledge
they will be able to gain from this chapter and what skills they should garner from this
unit. As well, understanding and extension questions at either the start or end of a chapter
allow students to synthesize and cement their newly acquired knowledge.

Dramatic changes in technology have changed the relationship between information,
students and their access. No longer can a static resource hold the student’s attention,
when they can access up to date information on any subject through an internet
connection (Bierman, 2006).

As well, a concern with the static textbook is that it is not accessible to all students. One
reading level for all is not designed to provide learning to students with learning
disabilities or even physical handicaps, such as students who are blind or have low vision.
Textbooks publishers are increasingly providing digital copies of their texts and
activities, so students can access them through screen readers and other specialized
Assistive Technology (Stahl, 2004)

The Future of the Textbook

As the nature and accessibility of knowledge continues to change and grow, the textbook
will have to continue to change as well. Textbooks will have to change from being a
static printed volume to negate being out of date as soon as they are in the hands of

Textbooks should continue to grow into guides for both students and teachers,
coordinating different resources from animations and simulations to interactive exercises.
These will include electronic interfacing, and focus on developing critical thinking skills
rather than the transmission of knowledge (Cunningham, Duffy, & Knuth, 2000).


Although the textbook has received a bad reputation over the past few decades, it is still a
valuable resource as a part of a balanced program of studies. The textbook has been
around since the beginning of schooling and as long as it maintains its course of
evolution and growth, it will continue to be part of it until the end of formal schooling.


Bierman, P. (2006, May 26). Carleton Education. Retrieved June 10, 2008, from
   Rethinking the textbook Web site: http://serc.carleton.edu/files/textbook/summary.pdf

Cunningham, D.J., Duffy, T.M., & Knuth, R.A. The textbook of the future. Center for
   Research on Learning and Technology, Retrieved June 15, 2008, from
Ellsworth, N.J., Hedley, C.N., & Baratta, A.N. (1994). Literacy: A redefinition.
    Philadelphia: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hamilton, D. (1990, July). What is a textbook. Paradigm, 3, Retrieved June 11, 2008,
  from http://faculty.ed.uiuc.edu/westbury/Paradigm/hamilton.html

Overview of Textbooks. (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Education. Retrieved June 16, 2008,
   from Answers.com Web site: http://www.answers.com/topic/overview-of-textbooks

Stahl, S. (2004). The promise of accessible textbooks: increased achievement for all
   students. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum.
   Retrieved June 15, 2008 from

Textbook. (n.d.). Encyclopedia of Education. Retrieved June 20, 2008, from
   Answers.com Web site: http://www.answers.com/topic/textbook

Wakefield, J.F. (1998). A brief history of textbooks: Where have we been all these years?
  Paper presented at the Meeting of the text and academic authors (pp. 1-39). St.
  Petersburg: Educational Resources Information Center.

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