Desks in school
James V. Shuls

In a recent article on the front page of the New York Times, Dana Goldstein explained how textbook companies selectively omit or add information to history textbooks for sale in Texas and California. Goldstein writes, “The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides.”

This occurs largely because California and Texas require school districts to purchase textbooks that have been approved by the state board of education. The Education Commission of the States reports that 20 states have similar policies.

What Goldstein’s article makes clear is that values are transmitted via the texts we assign children to read. In California, the texts are more open to portraying individuals with various sexual orientations. In Texas, they discuss legal and illegal immigration. Far from being value-neutral, the text schools assign children and the lessons teachers teach can be laden with values.

In this case, we can see the values when we compare one state to another. Missouri, however, does not have a state textbook adoption process. As such, schools can choose the books they think best align with state standards. Many are ditching textbooks altogether in favor of teacher curated reading materials and online resources. My 8th- and 9th-grader, for example, do not bring any textbooks home. Everything is online.

In this system, how can parents figure out what values are embedded in the curriculum that is being taught to their children? We can’t.

This is why we need school choice. With a robust system of school choice, which includes traditional public schools, magnet schools, public charter schools, and private schools, we can stop the charade. We can stop pretending that there is such a thing as the value-neutral school. We can be more upfront about what we want for our children and what our school community believes.


About the Author

James Shuls
James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.