It may seem strange, but the biggest arguments over books seem to be taking place in the country with the lowest rate of book readership in the Western world. Surely there is no other country where the prime minister speaks out about a chapter in a primary school textbook. Similarly there is no…
It may seem strange, but the biggest arguments over books seem to be taking place in the country with the lowest rate of book readership in the Western world. Surely there is no other country where the prime minister speaks out about a chapter in a primary school textbook. Similarly there is no other country, as far as we know, where schoolchildren burn their textbooks at the end of the school year, a traditional act which hardly raises an eyebrow anymore.
The recent controversy about a secondary school history book is based on fallacies (as was the case with an earlier furor over a primary school history book which, critics claimed, gave an imprecise overview of Greek history).
The problem with the secondary school book is not that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is referred to as “Macedonia.” Neither is it that the book contains a Nazi-era map which sets the Greek border at Kavala, some 50 kilometers south of today’s border. If the book had not been published in such a hurried and shoddy manner, the explanatory caption under the map would not have been omitted and there would have been no controversy. The fact that the book contains duplicate versions of photographs on the same page and countless typographical errors attests to its inferior quality.
The basic problem – which unfortunately has been drowned out by the current hysteria – is that school textbooks are burnt at the end of each academic year.
They are so badly made that, evidently, no one wants to keep them.
This is another example of the failed Soviet-style education that exists in this country. When there is central planning for everything – even for the quality of school textbooks – it follows that every government will find itself defending every controversial paragraph and map.
In the entire Western world, teachers’ unions decide which books to use in their classes. The state may subsidize the purchase of these books but the teachers’ unions decide, often with the input of the parents’ associations.
This practice provokes predictable objections – for example, what if certain teachers and parents choose “bad” books, or books that are considered inferior by certain experts? Of course this could happen. But this is far preferable to the current system, where all schools have bad books. Certainly, if we are to judge by the discontent that bubbles up every now and again, and the traditional end-of-year book burning, people are not satisfied.
By decentralizing the system of textbook allocation, those who decide will enjoy the benefits of, and shoulder the responsibility for, their choices.
KATHIMERINI English Edition, 14/09/2007