In this concluding article we will make a few remarks about the actual realization of this goal of having our own textbooks in our own school. Is it possible? How large a task is it? Whose work is it? How must we go about this work? Where must we begin? All these questions we face, and a multitude of others. But again, we undoubtedly are a long way toward a solution if we but first understand the problem and its ramifications well. Let us see.
The Size of the Task
We should not deceive ourselves as to the size of this undertaking. A little serious thought will soon convince us that the task is staggering in its scope, first of all.
For what do we need? Consider, in the first place, that there are many, many subjects taught in a school: Bible, Church History, Secular History, Geography, Arithmetic, Grammar, Reading, Spelling, Penmanship, Music, Art, Science, to mention, I believe, the more common subjects of the primary school. In all these various subjects our goal is the achievement of our own properly written textbooks. This in itself is a large task. But we must remember in the second place, that in regard to most of these subjects at least, we also need textbooks that are adapted to the several grades and age groups. You cannot teach Bible, of course, to a first grader in the same way as to a ninth grader. And this is true of all the subjects. This means already that we must multiply the number of subjects taught by the number of grades which require a new textbook in any given subject. But this is still not a full picture of the scope of the problem. For, in the third place, we must bear in mind that the textbooks must be kept up-to-date In a subject such as history, for example, this is an important element. To the facts and events of history new facts and events are constantly being added. This means, therefore, that textbooks will have to be revised and rewritten often. The same is true of such subjects as civics and science. Certainly no one but a fool would ever rush into such an undertaking without careful planning and preparation. These facts atone are enough to make us extremely cautious.
But there is more. If we are to have textbooks, we must have authors. And I do not say that we cannot find such men and women in our circles who would be able to produce a tolerably good textbook in a given field. But here again, we must realistically face the facts. What are some of the most pertinent ones?
In the first place, the writing of a textbook is not everyone’s work. We may certainly grant the fact that we may have to be satisfied at first with something less than the best. We have only a limited number of personnel upon which to draw in this work, for the simple reason that we are small to begin with. As always, the men of intellectual stature, of wisdom, of might and renown, are not found in the church but in the world. And the world has a large field from which to take its men, its expert writers, its capable educators. We have not. And however spiritually consecrated a person may be, or how doctrinally sound, these things do not as such and alone qualify anyone for the task of writing a fit textbook. And therefore, let us face this fact first. It does not require a mere teacher, but what I would call a real educator, an expert in his field, a master, to write a textbook. Besides, he must be a man who is able to write, to compose,—something which anyone who takes up a pen will soon admit is also not everyone’s work. This, then, should also serve as a finger of caution, lest we underestimate the task, and lest we should rashly hail any “Tom, Dick, or Harry” who glibly claims that he can at random produce textbooks for use in our schools.
In close connection with the preceding is another factor, namely, that the number of writers required is about equal to the number of textbooks needed. Just as the same textbook cannot be used in the ninth grade as is used in the first grade, so the same author most likely cannot write books for much more than one grade. As far as teaching itself is concerned this is true already: one may be a very capable teacher of junior high school pupils, while he would be a dismal failure if he were transferred to the first grade, or vice versa. How much more would this be the case in the composition of textbooks! Besides, each different subject will again require a different author. He who might be able to write an excellent textbook for the arithmetic class would not very likely be expert in the writing of a history book: it is a rare person who is expert in more than one field.
And if more need be said, we have not even mentioned such practical problems as the financing and publication of these proposed textbooks. When we consider all the other problems, it may be seen at a glance that these problems concerning the actual production of the textbooks lie far in the future not only, but also are comparatively minor difficulties.
To sum up, then, with only these few observations we can very readily say in this regard: “Easier said than done.”
Where to Begin
All of this does not mean, however, in my opinion, that we may not and must not take the long range view of things, and make a beginning. In fact, what we have said rather points to the very opposite: we definitely should make a beginning, and as soon as possible take certain steps toward the achievement of this long range goal. It may even surprise us what can be done, if we only begin.
A pertinent question in this connection is: where should we begin? At what point must we start, first of all, as far as achieving the most profit in the shortest amount of time? And where must be our starting point, in the second place, as far as achieving a Well-organized, rather than a helter-skelter, system of textbooks? Thirdly, where must be our starting point as far as giving direction, drive, and assistance to the entire movement for our own textbooks is concerned?
My conviction is that the answer is: not at the bottom, but at thetop of our educational system. Let me explain.
It would be possible, once this work is organized, to set as our first goal the production of textbooks for the primary grades, then for the intermediate grades, and so on up. This, of course, would give a certain amount of direction to our efforts, and in a way would be a “plan” for the production of textbooks. But it would be very arbitrary. Is it the easiest task to produce textbooks for the primary grades? This may well be questioned. Are the primary grades in the greatest need of textbooks that are written from a distinctively Reformed viewpoint? This too may be questioned. Proceeding in this way, could not someone as cogently argue that the intermediate or junior high grades should have first attention?
It appears to me that at the top, that is, beginning with the teachers themselves our own textbooks are needed. This is logical, is it not. The teachers must instruct. And if the teachers are to instruct properly, they must themselves be properly instructed. If we wish to purify the water in our educational stream, let us purify the source of the instruction. Eventually, then, the whole stream will flow with pure water. Let, therefore, our teacher training institution first of all have its own, distinctively Reformed textbooks; and from that point down to the level of the grade school let us work. In fact,
I dare say that if we begin at that point, the production of a complete system of textbooks would be a natural and spontaneous outgrowth.
However, there are also certain practical advantages which may be mentioned in favor of this method. In the first place, the quantity of textbooks needed at this point is the smallest. In the second place, the teachers will in this way be furnished with some of the fundamentals, both as to content and as to method, which will need to be incorporated into textbooks on any level. They will even be furnished with a pattern, to a degree at least. And not to be slighted is this third advantage, namely, that even without the immediate production of textbooks for the other levels of education, the instruction will to a large extent be immediately purified and given its proper Reformed direction. And even from the practical point of view of finance and publication, it would be very easy, for example, to begin with mimeographed material at this top level, as we did and still do in our Theological School.
One more matter remains to be mentioned, namely: how must we actually go about the writing of a whole system of textbooks? These remarks must be reserved until the next issue, however.