Some discussion of textbooks has been seen over at Grim's Hall and at the lodging of the Assistant Village Idiot.

Grim's associate Tex99 goes on at length about education, mentioning textbooks along the way. AVI has a pity comment that links to Richard Feynman's thoughts about the process of textbook selection.

Both reminded me of an educational and textbook environment that I grew up in. My parents skirted the law at the time they began educating children at home. (There was a court case ongoing. Within a few years, the State Supreme Court decided that people with strong religious convictions could be exempt from compulsory attendance.)

Anyway, I've had distant contact with lots of different theories of education. And I've seen parents choose books. I've also seen what the market for textbooks looks like, from the perspective of a home-schooled high schooler, and from the perspective of an adult helping my parent run a regional curriculum fair.

The market for homeschool textbooks quickly sorts out ideas that work from ideas that don't. It also managed, once the movement was above a minimum size, to promote several trends.

One thing that disturbs me about Feynman's comments are the ways in which bureaucrats and textbook publishers conspire to produce books that appear good on the surface, respond to fads in educational theory, and put them through as little rigorous analysis as possible before the final selection is done. The tale of a book full of blank pages getting good marks from the committee is disturbing and amusing.

It is hard for a governing body to design a process by which textbooks are selected by experts in the field. Yet it is easy for said body to turn the process into a bunch of make-work. And easier still for everyone to assume that the committee is making a smart decision by averaging the value of many non-smart decisions.

I have several reasons for being against large institutions and bureaucracies, where smaller operations can serve the purpose. This is one of them. Bureaucracies make decisions that affect many; the people who make the decision can often ignore the results of their decision. Especially results that are less-than-optimal. Even results that are harmful.

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