A Textbook Editor’s Plea for Citizen Engagement

K-12 textbooks aren’t subject to critical race theory, but they are full of mistakes

Antonia Malchik


Person standing in front of a brick wall looking up and holding a book over their face.
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

When I tell people I’m a freelance editor, they get interested. When I specify that I’m a freelance copy editor for K-12 textbook publishers, their eyes glaze over.

And it’s true, copy editing textbooks is a tedious job. There isn’t a lot of variety. (I wish the moral panic about critical race theory in K-12 curricula had any validity to it; at least then I’d have something else to think about while I’m checking for style alignment and missing commas. But alas, there is no such thing.)

But working in K-12 education at this granular level for the last 20+ years — for every large textbook publisher and many small ones — has given me invaluable insight into the structures and directions of education from kindergarten phonics to high school science.

Most people don’t know much about the publishing process of books themselves, nor is there any real need to, and even fewer probably know what goes into publishing textbooks. There are program developers and researchers, subject matter experts (SMEs) and project editors, writers and more editors, and then freelancers like me.

I come in at the end of the line, close to when the textbook is moving into production. At this point, the facts of the textbook, as well as the style and content, should have been pretty heavily combed over, evaluated and reevaluated, and then fact-checked by people who supposedly know what they’re doing.

Unfortunately, with some few exceptions, I haven’t found this to be the case. Particularly with the largest, best-known publishers, the manuscripts arrive in my inbox riddled with errors.

I can’t tell you how depressing this is, especially at younger grades. I stopped working on math textbooks entirely because their quality was so dismal and there was little I could do to mitigate the problems. One of the last math texts I ever worked on included tests for kindergarteners that had many misspelled words and wrong answers.

Think about that for a moment. The U.S. public school system has gone whole hog into standardized testing starting at very young ages. This means…



Antonia Malchik

Antonia Malchik is the author of A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time; walking, tech, community, and embodiment.