Critical methodological approaches in school textbook research: Theoretical principles and critical analysis examples

Issue 13

“Critical methodological approaches in school textbook research:Theoretical principles and critical analysis examples”

Kyriakos Mponidis


Research of school textbooks is a decisive issue for educational scientists (researchers and pedagogues), considering that in most educational systems the text-book is as yet the dominant medium for teaching and knowledge transfer. Research in school text-books, as it was systematized during the 1970s, has focused on the following three dimensions: the ‘informatory’, the ‘pedagogical’, and the ‘political’. The latter is of a particular interest for many researchers in the framework of critical pedagogy, as the textbook is fittingly considered not only as a medium for teaching, but also as a medium for ideological reproduction. Departing from critical analysis tradition, politically oriented research of the school text-books today is considered as interdisciplinary.

‘Classical’ critical pedagogy is highly influenced by the critical theory of the Frankfurt School in the late 1960s, and as it has developed so far, consist an alternative paradigm to the so-called dominant empirical and hermeneutic paradigms. The critical-pedagogy approach looks upon the dependant relations of mainstream educational practice with social and economic processes as well as the ways towards emancipation from what assists an oppressive condition. In this broad context the school textbook – taken as a product for ideology control or as a social construction that aims to deliver dominant social, economic and political beliefs as established and contracted – is studied through the ideology critique lens at four levels. In this process the researcher through a sequence of critical questions and self-reflection on the various distortions (cognitive, psychic and scientific) that the dominant ideology poses, is implicated to an ever critical condition that is dialectical in its foundations, but with practical aspects within it, aiming to ‘uncover’ the taken-for-granted realities of what is considered as dominant and unaffected. This paper presents examples of this process, based on the content of Greek school textbooks after the civil war period.

In recent years critical pedagogy is developing through alternative critical pedagogical discourses in reference to other critical social theories such as post-structuralism, post-feminism, cultural studies, queer theory etc. In this broad context school textbooks are approached as social constructions that –by being a medium of instruction- literally force into students’ realities the dominant ideology (assisting a dominant literary approach in reading and writing) as something non-negotiable, while serves the realities of those who represent the dominant culture (namely politicians, churches, people with economic power). The purpose of the researcher in this case is to put in use methodologies that provide ‘critical space’ for alternative meaning-making of what is considered or delivered as non-negotiable in our society. This aims to empower students to read from a different perspective. The most commonly used methods to assist the researcher’s effort towards this direction are critical discourse analysis and social semiotics. Based on the acknowledged work of Ν. Fairclough and S. Jäger the paper attempts a critical analysis of language textbooks that are in use in Greek schools, focusing on the construction of national identity. The example used is further amplified with reference to the ‘Grammar of Visual Design’ that was developed by G. Kress and Th. van Leeuwen.