From the time I was 13, I remember noting that the textbooks used in my small school in Nagpur, India, contained rather strong and partisan language. For nearly a decade I've been taken by the potential of textbooks to indoctrinate their readers with a sense of right and wrong: a power that can never be underestimated. As sociologist Michael Apple once wrote, "The curriculum is never simply a neutral assemblage of knowledge. It is always part of some group’s vision of legitimate knowledge."
In the academic year 2014-15, I pursued an MSc program in the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). While at the LSE, I enrolled in a course on education policy taught by Dr. Sonia Exley. For my thesis, under Dr. Exley's guidance, I undertook research on history textbooks. My research question was simple: can discrimination against certain social groups be induced by the writing and language of a history textbook?
I did not want to analyze this by merely reading the books and presenting my "thoughts." I wanted statistical rigor and data to back me up. I eventually utilised quantitative textual analysis through a specialized software package called Alceste, dissected the corpus of a fourth-grade history textbook, and found that there was sufficient reason to believe the language was discriminatory. This methodology had been employed in political science and psychology before, but never with pedagogical material. Textbooks have been analyzed on numerous occasions, but never with this rigor. My research was the first of its kind.
My thesis, The Anatomy of a Textbook: Examining the Scope for Discriminatory Language by Performing Quantitative Content Analysis using Alceste, is currently being graded at the LSE. The Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research, in Germany, has invited me to visit them for two weeks in 2016 and present my methodology to their researchers. In the short term, I shall publish my research in a peer-reviewed journal and bring public attention to the issue through journalistic coverage.
In the long term, however, I aim to broaden my lens to textbooks in different parts of India and the world. I want to shed some much-needed light on the potency of textbooks, in the hopes of increasing the data available to education policymakers for evidence-backed policy and more impartial governance.