The drama of… school manuals


This is an event that should concern Romanian politicians: Poland nationalised the market of school manuals. Yes, this is the real term: the nationalised market. A strong state-run publishing house was founded that, from now on, publishes every year, in exclusivity, the single manual for every school discipline. Based on the undisputable principle that only one school manual is the best. The selection of manuscripts is made by contest, so the most valuable variant of school book, from all points of view, is finally promoted. The quality selection is made according to the competence of manual authors, rather than through the current schemes in the so-called free market of school manuals, where some variants are exclusively promoted under the pressure of some moguls, as variants for the so-called “special preferences” of teachers or parents.
The decision made by the Polish government sparked fierce disputes in our country. Some of the supporters of alternative school manuals, in several variants, who grew rich from this activity, accuse the single school manual as being a form of dictatorship.

“Why force all children think the same? Why not offer them several possibilities of interpreting the information provided by school disciplines?” Such interrogations attest to a discriminatory, hence dictatorial conception. The school manual is the groundwork upon which is constructed the capacity of understanding of each youth. And this foundation must be equally accessible to everybody, precisely in order to eliminate any discrimination, also favoured by the very diverse material conditions of children’s families.
So, the single manual, equally accessible to every pupil, proves the democratic character that is essential for the stability of the basis of national education. It is known that Education, together with National Defence and with Health, is a fundamental sector of any national strategy. The discrimination that might appear in Education and Health is deadly for any people. The specific psychological, intellectual valences of will and action present in any child are not uniformised through the single school manual. On the contrary, with the help of the single manual they are transposed in an organic correlation absolutely necessary for the majority of components of each class, each generation to be stimulated toward solidarity, complementary efforts, rather than toward the contradictory reactions that are so frequent today. It is not the alternate school manual, specific to a group, a clan, an “elite,” but the single manual, provided freely and equally accessible to all schoolchildren that is at the centre of the unity and solidarity of a people. This is the source of national conscience.
Spiru C. Haret (1851–1912) is rightfully considered as the founder of the modern Romanian school, to which he imbues with a democratic character precisely by generalising primary education and using the same school curricula and manuals at town and village, by conducting an intense patriotic education in all education cycles. His efforts, gathered in a book named “The Nationalist School” in 1907, represent a teaching sent through time by a great scholar, a European spirit and also a patriot, given to the present-day pygmies that accuse and undermine the fundamental role of school manuals for the disciplines National History, Romanian Language and Literature, and Geography of Romania, which were subject to all kind of discrimination. “The existence of a people is ensured through the unity of its constitutive elements,” Spiru Haret teaches us, adding that “the Romanian soul must be inalienable.” The high conscience of his destiny gave Spiru Haret the devotion in favor of democratising the education. Before the laws of Spiru Haret, the Romanian education system had an elitist and discriminating character, ignoring the large mass of school population that came from the ranks of peasantry, artisans and clerks. This explains the mass proportions of illiteracy in Romania at the end of the 19th Century.
Unfortunately, today we tend to reach the same proportions of illiteracy, because of the same elitist and discriminating attitudes displayed by the successive governments after 1989 in relation to education, starting with school manuals. The contempt began with the Ministry of Education undermining the authority of its own publishing house. In Romania, there was for almost half a century a Didactic and Pedagogical Publishing House, dedicated to publishing single school manuals, university books and other education materials like treatises, monographic studies, translation of universal education books etc. Through their organic complementary character, these works were useful not only to pupils and students, but also for teachers and professors, scientists, parents, even casual readers. It was among the most prolific and courageous Romanian publishing houses. It was also profitable, even with school manuals being freely offered to pupils since the beginning of the 1960’s.
Alas, the importance of this publishing house was successively diminished under the mask of decentralisation and, finally, of privatisation. Today, in order to print school manuals, the ministry holds tenders attended by several publishing houses, often without a real intention to win. Winners or not, these houses frequently resort to the formula of alternate manuals. This allows a number of less dedicated, even contradictory books to join the ranks of authentic school manuals. Thus, not only teachers, but even the pupils that prepare to follow the courses of a university buy several alternative manuals, for the sake of value comparison and of avoiding possible traps of “scientific” interpretation. For the ever higher profit of “alternate” publishers and with the effect of weakening the single, organic character of the education process. Thus, to the detriment of the whole education system in Romania.