Friday, January 18, 2013

9.0 Theses of Textbooks

Earlier this week in my post on IowaTransformED, I stated that "Textbooks will be a supplement to learning, so students will be able to start using other sources..." It sounds okay but is rather vague, so I thought that I better explain what I really mean by reducing the role of textbooks in school. In order to do so, I have composed the following Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Textbooks, an idea that, in all fairness, was inspired by Martin Luther's 95 Theses, which I found in a textbook.

Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it, the following heads will be the subject of today's post. While it may be neither wise nor feasible to entirely eliminate textbooks, the writer hopes for the reading and consideration of the following propositions:

1. For millennia, textbooks have been the primary medium through which students are delivered information. 
2. The world has undergone substantial changes since the dawn of formal education. The connections that are possible through our hyper-globalized world enable (and perhaps require) that students be able to access and interpret information from a variety of sources. Textbooks inhibit this by presenting every important concept and fact in a neatly laid out format.
3. Students must have the opportunity to contemplate and evaluate point of view and biased from different sources. Textbooks merely offer one that is not to be challenged.
4. Schools in the US spend $7 billion each year on textbooks. This is in part due to the high cost of develop and print textbooks. I can understand why: you would have to pay me a lot to spend my life writing 1000 page books that thousands of students will abhor and will become obsolete after ten years. This is a lot to pay for information that is available for little to no cost from a plethora of other sources. 
5. Textbooks are unbelievably dull and dense: in many cases (particularly in math) the arcane, monotonous explanations just make students more confused. Considering this, no one should scratch their head at students' lack of interest in reading when schools require students to read the most uninteresting writing that exists day after day.
6. Textbooks inhibit innovation in teaching. I might argue that the more interesting classes that I have taken did not incorporate much textbook use in the classroom.
7. Textbooks are heavy. I usually carry three textbooks at a time, which weigh a combined total of 14.5 pounds. Add in notebooks, binders, and folders, and I lug 26 pounds around with me all day. My back will surely punish me come 40.
8. Textbooks hinder differentiated learning by presenting all students with the exact same information in the exact same format. In addition, students know that tests are almost always based off of what was covered in the textbook, so there is actually a disincentive to find another approach or dive deeper into a concept through another source.
9. It is estimated that 34.8 textbooks can be produced from one tree. Assuming that all American students in grades 9-12 have five textbooks just like me, my unscientific calculation suggests that there are 2.1 million dead trees in American's high schools alone. That's a lot of forest.

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