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A grandmother approaches a middle school textbook

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A few days ago I had the chance to study my 11-year-old grandson’s sixth grade World History Book. First, I was astonished to notice “TENNESSEE” prominently stamped near the front, apparently indicating this was the book to be studied for Tennessee’s sixth grade tests. The first segment of the book (appropriately bordered in red) concerned what would be tested in each unit. Then, at the end of each unit, I found two pages of multiple choice questions the student must be prepared to answer on completion of the unit. What a killjoy of a textbook, I thought.

Then I began to look at the actual text. For a history lover like myself, it is a veritable candy store of virtually all major cultures. (When I was in school, everything was Euro-centric; Egypt, Greece, Rome, Europe [mainly England], and America.) It has beautiful color illustrations of all kinds of people and artifacts I had to learn about through my own private reading. Some of the facts were not even discovered when I was a kid.

I began to see why the Religious Right might object to such textbooks, for this one explains the origins of every major religion and the conditions and cultures of the places where they arose. There are sections on the beginnings of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Confucionism, and Taoism, and in some cases quotes from their scriptures. In this, the book is attempting to follow the Common Core value of teaching students to think for themselves. There is even a section on bias and how to recognize and make allowances for it.

Each chapter begins with a “what would you do in this situation” case. Some of my teachers taught this way, and the idea was even in some of my 46-year-old son’s textbooks. These would be a total joy to someone like me, but I doubt very much there will be time for discussing them – or much of anything else – in the classroom. After all, everybody’s welfare depends on marking those multiple choice questions just right!

I also felt there was more in this one book than a sixth grader could absorb or deal with emotionally. There was a section on essay writing and proofing toward the end that I remember dealing with in high school. – Of course, that segment doesn’t really matter, since you can’t have essay questions on a standardized test.

Overall, without all the standardized testing jargon, this is a book I would love to own as a personal reference. It’s a shame the students who are so inclined aren’t given a chance to enjoy it.

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