dcarrigg, I think the entire public education system is extremely dysfunctional. Not just the textbooks that are used and the process by which they are selected, but the whole kit and kaboodle. With the entire world's knowledge available on the internet, using old textbooks and rigid lesson plans is insane.

The Texas schoolbook committee used to hold hearings in the Capitol building in Austin. Perhaps they still do. Special interest groups can present complaints and recommendations about the textbooks under consideration. When I was 16, I was part of a group that was concerned about the lack of representation of women and female role models in textbooks. My particular assignment was to study all the reading textbooks for grades 1-6. In those books, men and boys were mentioned 35 times more often than women and girls. Men were depicted in every career from architecture to zoology. Women were only depicted as housewives, nurses or street crossing guards (what we Texans called Mama Patrols). I took a day off from school, drove up to Austin with my group and gave a presentation of my findings to the schoolbook committee. The group that presented before us was a black organization making similar complaints about underrepresentation of blacks in textbooks. I don't think the all-white committee gave a damn about either blacks or girls.

In school my teacher said that in America we could grow up to be anything we wanted.

Teacher: "In America you can be anything you want, if you study and work hard."

Me: "Can I grow up to be President?"

Teacher: "No, you're a girl."

Me: :-(

Straying far afield now ...

Public education was designed in Germany to condition children to be mindless drones, so they could later be docile factory workers. Children learn that when the bell rings, they must cut off their thought in mid-sentence and move on to the next subject. This teaches them that nothing they learn is really significant or important; only the bell is important. Be punctual and color inside of the lines. The school bell teaches students to turn off their curiosity and love of learning.

For alternatives to the current system of education, I'm a big fan of the Summerhill School and greatly admire the writings of John Gatto, author of Dumbing us Down: the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.

Before No Child Left Behind, my husband taught at-risk, inner-city 9th and 10th graders (mostly Bloods and Crips) that had been kicked out of regular ed because of disruptive behavior and violence. His classroom was a portable building packed with 40 students and one teacher's assistant. The principal was happy to ignore them as long as he got results.

Free to teach as he thought best, he never used classroom lesson plans. Instead, he helped each student design their own monthly curriculum. They knew that by the end of the month they had to meet certain academic goals, but it was up to them how they went about it. He let them design their study projects around their hobbies and interests, integrating English, math, science and social studies into every individualized plan. Each student came up to his desk once a week for a one-on-one to discuss their progress.

The benefit of his method over simple textbook instruction was that it taught those children how to be self-starters. Most of them got the skills they needed to successfully return to regular ed within two semesters. They went on to study vocations, or joined the service and went on to college. Years later they would stop him on the street and tell him about their accomplishments. Maybe becoming a certified auto mechanic is lowbrow for a lot of people here, but for those kids such an accomplishment was huge. His toughest, most violent student (a gangster named Ruby) learned enough self-discipline that after graduation she served in the Marines and ultimately became a nurse.

Then came Clinton's push for every child to go to college (regardless of scholastic aptitude) and No Child Left Behind. Politicians decided to micromanage classrooms. Vocational education fell by the wayside. Teachers could no longer tailor their methods to the student's learning style but instead had to "teach to the tests." This is adequate for some students but is a disaster for many others, particularly kinesthetic learners.