‘Dumbing Down’ of Textbooks


State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig is right on when he says that watered-down school textbooks are “all horrors, and there is no reason for them” (“State Reading Experts Hit ‘Dumbing Down’ of Books,” Part I, Sept. 8). From Shakespeare to “The Little Engine That Could,” texts have been gelded and gilded into bland souffles that resemble, variously, book versions of People magazine, the evening giggly happy news on one of our local channels, or perhaps a Dan Quayle speech.

I am one of those people whom Honig says he would like to recruit into teaching. I know my subject very well, I like to teach, I’m good at it, and I believe in that mystical concept called education for its own sake (as well as education for its practical benefits). Yet I am like other potential teachers who at first cautiously tested the waters. I obtained a substitute teaching credential, and I taught in three California counties and six school districts. Did I really want to pursue this full time?

No. Not anymore. Not now. It wasn’t just the discipline problems in some schools; it wasn’t just the student apathy. It was most of all those damn textbooks. I taught an alleged 12th grade honors English class where they were reading stuff I had had in an ordinary 10th grade class in Virginia. I taught a “regular” 11th grade class which had a text that resembled 9th grade remedial reading. The unkindest cut of all was a prose, modernized version of “Macbeth,” presumably so no one would have to herniate any brain cells reading iambic pentameter. Like, uh, out, darned spot, y’know, dude?


Best of luck, Mr. Honig. Give us those tools, those good books to replace the creation “science” and disgraceful history and nonexistent geography, and most of all give us back those works of literature which have enriched our language and thought. Perhaps then, some of us might reconsider and try to recapture that idealism that may still be in teaching.