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a. a book used as a standard source of information on a particular subject
b. (as modifier): a textbook example
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a book that systematically presents the foundations of a given discipline in accordance with that discipline’s current level of development; the main type of instructional literature. There are textbooks for every level of education and every type of educational institution: general-education schools, vocational schools, specialized secondary institutions, and higher educational institutions; there are also textbooks for self-education. Textbooks help fulfill the educational requirements of different age and social groups.

Textbooks originated in ancient times. Sumerian clay tablets with instructional texts have been preserved that are 4,500 years old. A number of works by ancient Greek authors systematized scientific knowledge and were used as textbooks; for example, Euclid’s Elements (c. 300 B.C.) served as a geometry textbook for many centuries. By the late 19th century, 2,500 editions of the Elements had been published worldwide. In the Middle Ages, when the church dominated education, such liturgical books as the Psalms and the Book of Hours were used for instruction. As printing developed, the clergy lost its monopoly in education (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 7, pp. 350–51). In the 17th century the Czech educator and humanist J. A. Comenius established the textbook as a means of mass instruction embodying fundamental instructional principles. Comenius’ The World of Sensible Things Pictured (1658), the first illustrated textbook, was a model for textbook writers for several centuries.

The first printed Russian textbook was the primer published by Ivan Fedorov in L’vov in 1574. Printed Russian textbooks have existed for four centuries, but until the early 18th century only primers and grammars were published, among which the most important were the grammars of Zizanii (1596) and M. Smotritskii (1619). Smotritskii’s grammar was used as a textbook for more than a century, until the publication of M. V. Lomonosov’s Russian Grammar (1757). Also important was Karion Istomin’s secular primer (1694), which was illustrated with engravings by L. Bunin.

L. Magnitskii’s Arithmetic (1703) was the principal arithmetic and algebra textbook used in Russia until the late 18th century. The first book printed in the Civil typeface that was introduced by Peter I was the textbook Geometry of Slavonic Land Surveying (1708). Lomonosov’s A Short Russian Chronicle With a Genealogy (1760) was the first textbook on Russian history. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the Commission for Founding Public Schools published textbooks on mathematics, physics, chemistry, geography, natural sciences and foreign languages.

In the mid-19th century, advances in the natural sciences, as well as the movement for the democratization of instruction, resulted in a new approach to the writing of textbooks. One of the most outstanding textbooks published at this time was Our Native Language (1864), a book of readings by K. D. Ushinskii that went through 146 editions. The aim of Ushinskii’s book was to unify both speech and thought and thought and sensory experience during the process of instruction. Other textbooks for public schools were written by Ushinskii’s followers, V. I. Vodovozov and N. A. Korf.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, textbooks on physics were written by K. D. Kraevich and A. V. Tsinger, on algebra and geometry by A. P. Kiselev and S. P. Rybkin, and on geography by A. S. Barkov, A. A. Kruber, S. S. Grigor’ev, and S. V. Chefranov. They went through many editions and some were used in revised form in Soviet schools. For example, Kiselev’s algebra textbook went through 42 editions and remained in print until 1965; his geometry text went through 31 editions and remained in print until 1970.

During the establishment of Soviet public education, fundamentally new programs of study were founded that were oriented toward the education of the new generation of the builders of communist society. Prerevolutionary textbooks, particularly in the humanities, were not suitable for the new curricula, and attempts to adapt them to the needs of Soviet schools were unsuccessful. The repudiation of prerevolutionary textbooks led to a rejection of standardized textbooks altogether.

In the 1920’s and early 1930’s workers’ books and textbooks in loose-leaf, magazine, and newspaper form were widely used. In the resolution On Textbooks for Primary and Secondary Schools of Feb. 12, 1933, the Central Committee of the ACP(B) rejected such textbooks and authorized the People’s Commissariat of Education of the RSFSR and the OGIZ (Association of State Book and Magazine Publishing Houses) to publish standarized school textbooks. Since then, textbooks for long-term use have been written and published in the USSR. This is in accordance with V. I. Lenin’s comment that “the chief purpose of any guidebook [is] to give the basic concepts of the subject under discussion and to show in what direction it is to be studied in greater detail and why such a study is important” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4, p. 40). The many articles, reviews, and speeches by N. K. Krupskaia on the subject aided greatly in establishing the theoretical foundations and the actual practice of textbook preparation.

Soviet school textbooks are a means of achieving the educational tasks of schools, which are to impart knowledge systematically and thoroughly and to establish in pupils a Marxist-Leninist world view and a communist morality. The mastery of the fundamentals of a given field of study and the success of the instructional process are directly dependent on the quality of the school textbooks. Ushinskii wrote: “With a good textbook and sensible methods even a mediocre teacher can be good, but without these things even the best teacher . . . will not find the right way for a longtime, and perhaps never” (Sobr. soch., vol. 11, 1952, p. 48). Textbooks of high quality use progressive methodological ideas, which constitute one of the foundations of good teaching.

In the preparation and publication of Soviet textbooks, certain principles determine their content, methodology, expository style, design, printing technique, and readability. Content is determined by the curriculum. School textbooks are required to present the fundamental information about a given field, to contribute in every possible way to the pupils’ upbringing, to help form a scientific world view, to prepare pupils for practical activity, and to present information in a way that is fully comprehensible to pupils of the given age group.

A textbook presents information according to a certain methodology, which determines the means by which the information is assimilated and contributes to the pupils’ cognitive and emotional development. A correct methodological structure in a textbook, that is, the interrelationship among the text, illustrations, and reference materials, helps the pupils assimilate the textbook’s content. The modern Soviet textbook is one element in an integrated educational program that includes a textbook, a work-book, readers and anthologies, reference books and dictionaries, and materials for organizing the pupils’ independent work. When such an educational program is developed and perfected, it becomes systematized and its elements acquire new characteristics; the textbook becomes a means for integrating and organizing the systematized program.

In the mid-1960’s new programs of study were inaugurated in Soviet general-education schools. Textbooks were written that aimed to raise the level of education in order to meet the new goals of building communism, as well as the demands of scientific and technological progress. Many pedagogical research centers and educational and pedagogical publishing houses deal with school textbooks, and outstanding scholars, scientists, writers, and artists collaborate in the publication of textbooks. The development and improvement of the theoretical foundations and methodology of traditional textbooks have been accompanied by the appearance of a new type of educational text, the programmed textbook.

Instructional texts used for professional and advanced training are not textbooks in the sense in which the term is used with regard to secondary general-education schools; such texts are usually similar to trade literature and are intended for the practical task of training skilled workers.

Textbooks for higher education, unlike school textbooks, generally present a subject of study as such, rather than its foundations. Textbooks for higher educational institutions deal with both major disciplines and numerous specialized subjects. The increasing fragmentation of knowledge and the continual emergence of new developments cause specialized textbooks used in institutions of higher learning to become outdated quite rapidly. They are consequently supplemented by published lectures, seminars, and additional chapters.

The preparation and publication of textbooks in the USSR are matters of great importance to the state, as witnessed by relevant resolutions of the Central Committee of the party and of the Soviet government. The textbook is the most widely available type of book in the USSR. For example, in 1975 approximately 2,400 different textbooks were published for secondary general-education schools alone; they were in 52 languages and totaled more than 300 million copies. Annual State Prizes for textbooks have been established and between 1970 and 1976 were awarded to more than 20 textbooks used in secondary general-education schools, specialized secondary schools, and higher educational institutions.

The other socialist countries have also made substantial advances in the preparation and publication of textbooks. There is increasing cooperation among the educational and pedagogical publishers of the USSR and those of the German Democratic Republic, the Polish People’s Republic, and the other socialist countries. Pedagogical research institutions study ways of improving modern textbooks.

In the capitalist countries, the preparation and publication of textbooks are generally decentralized. Textbooks dealing with the same subject compete with one another, owing to the lack of unified curricula for schools and to other reasons.


Lenin, V. I. O vospitanii i obrazovanii: [Sb. St.], 3rd ed. Moscow, 1973.
Krupskaia, N. K. Ped. soch. v 10 tt., vol. 3. Moscow, 1959. Vol. 10: Moscow, 1962.
Narodnoe obrazovanie v SSSR: Sb. dokumentov, 1917–1973. Moscow, 1974.
Problemy shkol’nogo uchebnika: [Sb. St.], fascs. 1–4. Moscow, 1974–76.
Preparing Textbook Manuscripts: A Guide for Authors in Developing Countries. [Paris], UNESCO, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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