My high school students know that I rely very little on our textbooks. I hand them out at the beginning of the school year because I have to, but other than as a last-resort reference, most of my classes use them minimally throughout the year.
Why do this? They’re boring. They can add to the confusion and dislike students already have towards math. They rely too heavily on plug-and-chug methods. They don’t encourage outside-the-box thinking. The list goes on for a while. Plus, I don’t want them carrying around a huge book every day to and from class. If I need sample problems, they’re not hard to find elsewhere. If I need pictures or formulas, Google comes to the rescue.
Sure, it’s a good skill to be able to learn information from a book that may not be easy to digest, but isn’t is also a worthy skill to be able to find the information you seek from other sources?
Annie Keeghan only offers justification as to why we ought to do without textbooks at Salon. Even if you don’t follow education policy, this is worthwhile reading:
Here’s how it works: Many publishers solicit developers, often on the Internet and from all over the world, looking for the best bid on a project. With competition this fierce, developers are forced to drastically lower their rates just to stay in business (and publishers exploit this fact). Let’s say a publisher hires a developer for a certain low-bid fee to produce seven supplemental math books for grades 3-8. The product specs call for each student book and teacher guide to have page counts of roughly 100 pages and 80 pages, respectively. The publisher wants these seven books ready for press in five weeks — over 1,400 pages. To put this in perspective, in the not too recent past at least six months would be allotted for a project of this size. But publishers customarily shrink their deadlines to get a jump on the competition, especially in today’s math market. Unreasonable turnaround times are part of the new normal, something that almost guarantees a lack of quality right out of the gate.
You may be wondering by now where students fit into the grand plan of these practices. Let’s write and solve and equation to find out: Poorly-executed product (x) + a greater concentration of money spent on marketing to maximize profits (y) = nowhere, that’s where.
This anecdote is particularly heartbreaking:
One math exercise in a chapter I was assigned called for students to use a math formula to calculate their level of attractiveness, using a mathematical ratio of 1:1.618 (otherwise known as phi or divine proportion), a formula scientists have devised to set standards of beauty. Math can be tough enough for some kids without having to learn that, on top of struggling to apply math formulas to their face, they are also inherently unattractive.
I feel like I could eliminate textbooks from my classes completely and very little would change. Eventually, no one would even notice. There would be other supplements and resources for the kids, of course, but the textbook as we know it seems like a *huge* money drain for a lot of high school math departments.
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