Valuing textbooks

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-20 08:02
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There's no doubting the power of books. They are a source of knowledge, wisdom and truth.

But recently a batch of books in China came under scrutiny and were criticized for the flaws they contain. These books are important because they are textbooks for our primary and high school students.

Textbooks on history and literature have been found with fabricated stories on real figures such as Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish writer noted for his children's stories, and Chen Yi, a Chinese politician and military commander. History textbooks have also been criticized for their portrayals of famous Chinese historical personages including Ying Zheng (259-210 BC), the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), and Zhuge Liang (AD 181-234), statesman and strategist in the State of Chu during the period of the Three Kingdoms (AD 220-280). Also, unscientific descriptions of some objects have been uncovered in science textbooks.

Ye Kai, a senior editor of Harvest, a literature bimonthly, said in his blog that a great quantity of fabrications and distortions in primary school textbooks do more harm to us than the melamine-tainted milk.

Ye is bitter in his condemnation of the faulty texts in the books for our children. Ye has reason to be angry and he is not alone.

Primary and high school textbooks serve as the building blocks for small children and teenagers. The textbooks are part of the value systems that students develop and are directly related to the kind of people they are and will become. The books are supposed to open doors for our children to the true value of knowledge.

The direct transfer of values works only when there is complete consistency about what constitutes "desirable" values. But consider the youth of today. Parents offer one set of "shoulds" and "should nots." Teachers often suggest another. The peer group offers one more. Television and magazines, a fourth. The Internet, a fifth. Being bombarded from so many different directions makes it nearly impossible for one to bestow his or her own set of values on another.

Textbooks are where our youths are taught the nation's history, traditions and values but they should keep pace with the times.

The department responsible for compiling the primary school textbooks in the People's Education Press said it is busying itself collecting material for new textbooks. It has to wait for the new curriculum standard from the Ministry of Education.

We must not offer our youths textbooks in which they will find many planted stories when they grow up.