Social Studies Textbooks in Classroom: Critiqued, yet still useful?

As Roberts states, “Of all of the educational tools used in social studies education, by far the most critiqued is the standard basal textbook.” However, do social studies textbooks still have a place in 21st century social studies classrooms? Should teachers ditch them completely? How reliant should teachers be on them? Is over-reliance still an issue in today’s classes? In this post, I look to explore the positives to using a social studies textbook in the classroom and argue against ditching textbooks completely. I will also be discussing national social studies standards and their relation to this discussion.

There are many positive aspects to using social studies textbooks in lesson planning. As Roberts suggests, “they can provide students with background knowledge to build upon when they start examining other documents.” This is one of the biggest positives of the textbook and it can take enormous pressure off the teacher. For example, if a teacher wants to teach a lesson on Chapter 3 Section 1 the next day, she can have students read that section for homework and then have the teacher teach the subject with an engaging lesson plan with class activities the following day to make the lesson come to life instead of just in a page. The teacher can reinforce the information that students read in the textbook. It is a great supplemental learning tool, it just can’t be the only learning tool that a teacher utilizes.

Another positive that Roberts argues about using textbooks is that all students have access to one. However, this may not be the case for all students. Many classrooms, especially in low-income areas only have a class set, meaning the textbook cannot leave the classroom. This negates the first positive above, unless teachers have them read in class (which takes away time from direct instruction). So this can be a positive, in some districts. However, textbooks are a positive in the sense they can provide teachers with “numerous primary and secondary sources.” In my lesson, I took a picture of a great timeline in a textbook to aid my direct instruction. One final benefit of a social studies textbook is that it can relate to state standards, which leads me to my next point.

One standard from the National Standards for Social Studies Teachers that I love is, “help learners understand how the government of the United States operates under the constitution and the purposes, values, and principles of American democracy, including the ideas of distributed, shared, and limited powers of government; how the national, state, and local governments are organized.” The interesting question I have for this standard is that although students can read through the constitution, but can students really read the principles  of American democracy? Don’t they need to see it,  and more importantly, participate in it? Reading is the first part, but to really accomplish this standard, the textbook needs to be supplemented with direct instruction but also civic participation as well.


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