Can We Just Eliminate Textbooks?

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.

Vi Hart‘s explanation of phi (here, here, and here) is *way* more educational — and it was fun to watch in school.

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.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

    In college, when you have to pay $150-200 for a text book and an online service that takes care of all homework assignments, grading, and review, you really start to wonder what you’re paying the professor for.

    • Michael Appleman

      No kidding. Some of my professors where totally phoning it in.

      • heisenberg

        ^Obviously your composition prof. falls into that category! ;-p

        I think what happens is that a person discovers a great interest in a field and pursues that drive. They get their Bachelor degree and then their Master’s only to find out that there are no jobs available for them so they toil away for a few years until finally they land a professorship teaching the most basic level course in their field. The class is full of students who don’t want to learn the information being given, they’re just there to fulfill credit requirements. Odds are they’re also working for a fairly meh salary. I’m not excusing lazy professors, I just think sometimes we should take a step back and put ourselves in their shoes.

        • Rebecca Sparks

          Don’t forget that they’re probably not on a tenure track and possibly teaching at two or three colleges to make ends meet.

  • Annie

    I’m currently teaching K-5 science and don’t use textbooks either.  Most textbooks designed for this age merely test reading comprehension and vocabulary recognition.  Although a few of the more savvy publishers have started adding demonstrations and “experiments” (more demonstrations under the guise of experiments) they still fall short.  It’s so much easier to build my own units around core concepts than to try to supplement a poorly written textbook.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Do you (or Hemant) use Khan academy or any similar online sources?  Do you direct students to Vi Hart Hemant?

      • Annie

        I love Khan Academy… and use it sometimes in the classroom, but more often to brush up on my own understanding.  Their math tutorials are helpful when my middle schooler doesn’t remember something from class.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

        No, we don’t use KA. But we always watch Vi Hart videos in class.

  • littlejohn

    My wife teaches journalism, and the textbook was obviously chosen by people who have never actually worked in the area. My wife and I each have a couple of decades on newspaper copy desks, and actually know the subject. The textbook is horrible, and she, like you, hands it out then ignores it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Patrick/100000027906887 Adam Patrick

    I can’t wait for the day schools don’t need textbooks anymore. Paying for them in college sucks and so does carrying them around all the time. 

    Of course, it’s all about the money like everything else in the country. Even some of the atheists have a god. It’s called the dollar.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

    I disagree… my 6th grade son does not have a math textbook and as a parent, it’s REALLY hard to figure out what’s going on, what they are working on, how the teacher has explained it, what the context is, what they learned right before this… without a textbook. There is a text that can be accessed online… but not every kid in our district has easy access to the internet. Kids lose handouts, don’t always take great (or legible) notes… I’ve seen textbooks (for the middle levels, at least) that are divided into soft texts (i think maybe 10 sections?) and so they are not dragging home the entire book every night.

     Also, I have a hard time with the writer of this article making complaints when the article itself is poorly edited… “write and solve and equation to find out” … note the second “and” where there should be an “an.”

    • Anonymous

      Glass houses, buddy. Think you could fit more parentheses (or improper elipses) in there?

    • Anonymous

      Yes, that stray ‘d’ invalidates everything he wrote.

      I fail to see how your argument that middle school students need something to take home and share with their parents is even contrary to his arguments. The point is that text books for high schoolers are expensive and ineffective- and possibly redundant. The need for something to take home and go over with parents, which is more pronounced among younger students who do homework with their parents, is covered by the “other supplements and resources for the kids” he mentioned.

  • Joshua Zucker

    Henri Picciotto leads a great group out here in SF that works on ways of teaching without a textbook.  http://mathfuture.wikispaces.com/EscapeFromTheTextbook and http://www.escapethetextbook.org/home are good starting places.  There’s an archive of videos of past sessions there, too.

  • PJB863

    Maybe not so much for math, but history and other subjects, the fact that the Texas Dept. of Education, and the wingnuts running it, want to inject religion and other right-wing philosophies into subjects where they don’t belong.  A lot of textbook publishers won’t publish a textbook unless it meets with their approval, due to the sheer number of textbooks involved (Texas has centralized textbook selection for all schools).

    Maybe its time for the textbook to follow the mimeograph machine into obsolescence.

    • heisenberg

      Well, I’d say your logic supports the other side of the argument. With teachers constantly inserting their personal and religious beliefs into classroom lectures, imagine how much more freedom they would have to do that when there wasn’t a textbook available to at least hold them slightly accountable.

      I think back to my first high school bio class (in the deep south) and how my teacher basically tried to teach evolution in about 20 minutes, finishing up the lesson with his own ideas about how “untrue” he finds the theory. I’m extremely glad to of had a bio book that covered the subject much better.

  • Austin

    As a guy in high school I agree with this. My math textbook was published in 1998 and we never use it, or any other text in other classes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nicoleglynn Nicole Glynn

      When I was a senior in high school in 2005, I used the same textbook for my government class as my mother did in 1981.

  • Druttaro

    I am in college and new textbooks are coming out in pdf.  Some students (never me of course :) ) can break the copy protection and get them for free.

  • Philbert

    Richard Feynman wrote about his experiences evaluating math textbooks for California back in the sixties, and it sounds like textbooks were similarly useless back then. The essay is called “judging books by their covers” and is part of the book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman”.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      As I recall, one of the books was obviously not done, as in completely blank sections, and yet got positive reviews from the rest of the panel.  Fenyman was the only one who actually opened it.

      • Philbert

        Yes that was the best part! Also the book companies totally tried to buy his endorsement, and offered him a bunch of extra literature meant to explain the book’s contents. Feynman’s response was that the students would only see the books themselves, so he’d do the same.

  • DrMatt

    Most texts are written by great scholars to impress and intimidate other great scholars.  I teach at a community college.  Faculty complain about students who do not or cannot read their books, do not do homework and do not apply what they learn. 

    I wrote my own text.  Actually, it was more of a workbook.  The language was simple.  The daily homework was doable in about 20 minutes.  Everything connected to real world applications.

    Prentice-Hall called and even sent a representative to discuss publication.  I was told to add 70 pages of impenetrable prose that students won’t read and more problems (longer homework) to overwhem those who already don’t like doing mindless homework..

    I turned them down.  The only problems I had with the text was students working ahead because they could. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephan-Goodwin/676660806 Stephan Goodwin

    How about we actually get high quality textbooks by not buying the crappy ones now being produced and demand high-quality textbooks?

    I agree, though, Hemant, in the classes I teach we rarely use any textbooks except for physics class, and that is only a source for the “easy” introductory problems.  For problems with any meat to them, we just make them up ourselves.  

    It is much more fun that way, we can have problems involving surviving a velociraptor attack, or how fast Michele Bachmann slides back into her reality-proof hole now that she dropped out of the primary race, to how many times a rock skips across a river of Patriots fans’ tears.  (Yes, all of these have actually been used)

    Ditch the books, demand better ones, and when they show up then we can use those when we want to.

  • Anonymous

    I read the textbooks in school and find teachers and professors who rely purely on their own syllabus to be a pain in the ass. You can learn a lot more from the book than they can possibly cover in gut classroom.

    • Annie

      I can see how this would be a bit frustrating.  When I used to teach at the university level, I would assign readings from the text, but would not teach that material during class.  I don’t think adults need to be told to read something, and then told what they should have found important in the material.  I would plan my classes to compliment and go deeper than the text, and try to present the information in practical ways.  But what I found was that students wouldn’t read the text unless they were quizzed on it, even after telling them they were responsible for the information.  While grading midterms and finals, it was always obvious which students never cracked open the text.  They were the same students who would come to complain that I never talked about a particular question in class.  It’s a hard call, at least it was for me.  It sounds like you were a student who actually read the text, and so I am sure you learned more than peers who didn’t bother.

      • Erik Cameron

        Only classes I ever did readings for were the occasional ones where the prof quizzed us on the content before the lecture.

      • Brian Macker

        You make it sound like you assigned chapters and didn’t cover that material at all, which I think would be wrong also.  Was that your intention.

        There are all sorts of reasons to use a text I didn’t cover.  I (and my kids) have had several teachers who think they are competent at explaining things but they are not, or just plain misunderstand something.   Also some material just cannot be absorbed without going over and over it.  The textbook has hopefully been reviewed for correctness unlike a teachers private syllabus, plus one can reread and reread the sections that one is having trouble understanding.

        • Annie

          My apologies.  I just read my original response and in an attempt to be brief, I wasn’t very clear.  I would start each class asking if there were any questions, concerns, interesting aspects of the week’s reading assignment.  In six years of teaching this course, I only had a handful of students ask to discuss something.  I made it clear in the beginning of each semester that they were responsible for reading before class, and that I’d be happy to discuss anything that wasn’t clear to them.  I think it is ineffective to go over an entire reading assignment via powerpoint or lecture… you lose most of your students within the first few minutes and you penalize the ones who actually did their work (and of course, you implicitly teach them that they really don’t have to read).  So instead, I would use some of the information from the text to demonstrate practical applications of the material, organize discussions of important points, and model how to use the information in a classroom (this was a course for 4th year ed. majors).  Sometimes the connections were obvious,  other occasions required students to connect the dots.  In order for students to take ownership of their learning, they should do some of the work.  So yes, I would cover the material in the text, but I wouldn’t stand in front of the class and spoon feed it to them.  I always found it insulting when professors did this to me as a student. 

      • Rebecca Sparks

        I have been both a read-before and read-after lecture student in my academic career.  While part of that has been my own scholarly maturity, part of that is the teaching style of the professor.  In lecture style classes I tend to listen to the lecture first, and then go over the text later to refine my understanding.  In discussion type classes I read first so that I can participate in the discussion.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

       Good for you, man. Some of us learn better when we don’t have to read miles and miles of mind-numbing text.

      (And this comes from someone who loves to read.)

      • Brian Macker

        If it was mind numbing it was only the first time I read it.   Then I read it again, and again until it wasn’t mind numbing    I don’t remember there being miles and miles of text either.  It usually was one to three chapters at a time at most before the next class depending on the class spacing, and usually with homework questions from the text.  
         
        We probably do not share the same background.  Perhaps the problem was your teachers, or a failure on the part of your parents to provide you with other material at home, or easy access to the library.  I for instance had the Time/Life encyclopedia at home and when bored in the winter would read through it.
         
        I hated English class for various reasons.    Although I did read the books most of the time, a few times I found myself hating a book so much that I couldn’t bring myself to read it.   It felt like a waste of time because obviously the writer had nothing of value to impart.  Luckily for me many of my English teachers let us read books of our own choosing, or picked good books.
         
        I think they taught English particularlly poorly in my school system.  I wish they did provide a text in English with the rules and exceptions to grammar and punctuation, which I would have read.    Instead we were expected to absorb this stuff based on lectures when none of it really made any sense.   I don’t think the teacher would have been able to finish one class if everone started asking questions about all the nonsense that goes on in english spelling, grammer, and punctuation.    Instead our eyes glazed over in class. 

        If I had these texts in English I could have read the chapter to prepare, gone over and over until I got as much as possible, and then when I got into class I would know areas I didn’t understand and could ask questions.    

        One thing I think was very important that they did in math but not english was to review the concepts learned in prior years at the beginning of each year.

        I have the quite unrealistic desire to have english be systematized into something remotely consistent.   Recognizing that is not likely I think it good to point out the rules and exceptions to those rules.   I thought one of my sons was having the same isssues in English so I bought him a copy of “Hooked on Phonics” and it was vastly superior to what was going on in the classroom.   He immeditately improved in his grades, no thanks to the teacher.
         

  • Deepak Shetty

    I think I disagree – Textbooks help standardize what is being taught and are useful if you have mediocre or bad teachers. 
    Besides when you were taught , did it help or hinder that you had a textbook?

    • Annie

      State and national standards do more to standardize learning than text books.  True, textbooks are usually geared to meet a specific state’s standards, but there is a lag time between publishers updating texts once standards are changed (and they are updated periodically).  Standardized tests measure how much information from the standards students retain, not information from text books. 

      • Deepak Shetty

        The standard test has no meaning without a standard curriculum.

        • Annie

          Yes.  And that is why standards and benchmarks are important… depending on the state, textbooks can vary from county to county… or even school to school.  Textbooks are not the norm for standardization.  But I say this as someone who thinks standardized tests are ridiculous and measure very little.

  • SimonSays

    Hear hear. Myself I would take it a step further and even do away with grades, perhaps only having a pass/fail.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adrian-Chester/682538320 Adrian Chester

      I am attending a TAFE collage in Australia ( something like community college in America? learning trades more than to be a doctor?)  and we have that, you are either competent or not, but the competent is more like a B than a C.  Works well I think. 

  • Chak 47

    If all teachers were as inspired as you are, Hemant, this would be a good idea.  But many teachers, especially in elementary classes, are either math-phobic or just uninterested.  You know you can survive a class with a great teacher and a lousy book, or a lousy teacher and a good book, but you just can’t survive with a lousy teacher and a lousy (or no) text.  

  • Guest

    My high school US history teacher (this was in the mid-1990′s) completely ignored the textbook and instead provided all of his students with two large binders-full (over the course of the year) of articles and sources from the time of the event in question as well as later analysis. I can’t imagine how much that would cost (several classes, 30+ kids per class…), but it was a pretty incredible resource. It taught us a lot more than any history textbook would have, especially one vetted by the state of Texas. He made us highlight the text to show comprehension in addition to our assignments.

  • The Vicar

    A quick shoutout to Larry Gonick’s recently-published Cartoon Guide to Calculus seems appropriate here. (And all his other books, really.)

  • heisenberg

    I know there are great teachers out there who are willing to go the extra mile. Those teachers who really love what they do and realize how great their impact is on the world. However, said teachers are the minority and I’m not sure I’d want to hoist so much responsibility and power on the whole of teacherdom. Think of all the crappy teachers you had, aren’t you glad they at least taught from the textbook so you learned a little something? 

    Also, what’s the history of the textbook? What if this is cyclical? Schools start becoming more important as American society revolutionizes. Great teachers around the country only have themselves and their knowledge to draw upon. Eventually they start coming together and they realize that things could be a lot more efficient if they were all teaching the same things so that their is a standard and BOOM! The world of textbooks is born. 

    Let’s say we toss out textbooks. The next thing that happens is all those math teachers start looking elsewhere for their information. Hemant’s sources are a great start, but not enough. Eventually teachers are grasping for more information and contacting Hemant’s sources with ideas for different topics and such to help them teach their own classes. What’s to stop said sources from realizing they can make money doing this and a few decades later we’re right back to this point in time. 

    Also, I realize that the people Hemant brings up in his post are probably in it for the love of the game but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve some monetary credit.

  • Daniel

    Moronic standards and testing.  I am a new teacher and the administration stresses me using the text and following the pacing guide that comes with it precisely.

    I teach English.  I could probably do fine with just a few novels.  Well… 130 copies of a few novels.

    • http://inmyunbelief.wordpress.com/ TCC

      I actually disagree. I teach high school English, and I tend not to use many novels at all (basically just To Kill a Mockingbird for sophomores, although I have a number of class sets of works like A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Letter). A textbook is just about perfect for me, since it gives me some general structure that I can then supplement with my own texts (e.g. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” after teaching an excerpt from Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”).

      I should also note that while I do think that having a textbook has helped me in my own instruction, there have been plenty of instructional units that I either supplemented from other sources or in many cases came up with myself (try finding instructional texts on teaching autoethnography for high schoolers, for instance).

      Conversely, I think that getting rid of textbooks altogether is unfeasible for many school districts trying to align instruction to the Common Core Standards, especially in districts where students are not meeting benchmarks on standardized tests (like mine, which is mostly because we’re a relatively low-income, high-poverty rural district). So there’s more pressure on those districts to show how they plan to meet the standards through the textbooks that they will use. Having been on my district’s curriculum committee for the last three years, I can attest to the kind of anxiety that we’ve had not only in the selection of new textbooks (especially math for upper elementary students) but in finding money to pay for them, so it’s doubly onerous on small districts who are struggling financially with state budget cuts. So I think that the problem with textbooks is likely a symptom of some larger issues.

      • Kristen White

        I teach high school English as well, but I see absolutely no need for a textbook. The vast majority of texts are available online without violating copy protection. My kids get copies of every non-novel text we read, and I teach them how to effectively highlight and annotate. That’s generally how they are graded on readings–rather than a study guide or worksheet, I ask them to point out certain things as they annotate. I put all handouts up on my website so parents can access them. It’s made the transition to Common Core very simple because I can swap out some texts and sub in others without having to wait for a new textbook.  It’s worked really well–we’re reading Huck Finn right now, and I had several students ask if they could go out and buy their own copy so that they could highlight as they read. A few more downloaded the book (for free!) to their phones through the Kindle app so they could annotate that way. 
        Our district does have a textbook for the course I teach, and it’s not terrible, but it treats the course more as a survey, where students learn a little bit about a lot of things and the assessment focus is comprehension and remembering details. I don’t think that serves the students well, and it definitely won’t help them when we start with Common Core assessments.I also really don’t like how many textbooks include novel excerpts. I understand excerpting for nonfiction/essay texts like “Civil Disobedience,” but I see no value in asking students to read a few chapters from a novel. They’re boring, the students don’t understand the context, they can’t see the whole scope of the work, and it just seems like the only point is so that the teacher and the textbook manufacturer can say they “covered” some particular author.  I’ve heard of several districts that stopped buying novels because they couldn’t justify paying for textbooks and for novels. To me, that’s a travesty. If I had to choose between spending $100 on a textbook and spending $100 on five novels, I’d choose the novels any day. 

  • Allison

    I teach math at the community college level and have kids in elementary and middle school. We live in a state  where the texts are approved at the state level and the individual schools really have no choice in the matter. The math text for the middle school in particular is just appalling. I teach problems like these in my remedial math classes and am good to go as long as I can tell what the students are and are not supposed to know at the moment, but often that information is not easy to find at all. Then you get the joy of trying to figure out whether the kid’s supposed to be measuring and getting an approximation for the perimeter of a triangle or whether you’re supposed to use the Pythagorean theorem to get an exact answer. Those two methods deal with very different skills, so using one of them is not appropriate if they’re working on the other skill at the moment.

    My district sees having common texts as very important because there are a lot of impoverished students moving frequently from one school to the other, and for those students it’s good to have as much continuity as possible in order to avoid gaps. If you attend three or four different schools in the space of a year, consistency is a good thing.

    I do think having a good text or set of resources is important, however you put it together. Students do inevitably get ill from time to time or end up absent for other reasons. Many of my students have terribly poor note-taking skills, and while I work to improve them over the course of the semester it’s not an instant thing, it’s a learned skill. I usually supplement rather dramatically depending upon what my students seem to need, and I never use the examples in the text as my in-class examples. I rely relatively little on lecture as a delivery method, as it’s not a terribly effective way to get information across and I’m not in a room with 300 of my favorite students at a time. I do make sure to consult the text because I want to use similar notation and because I want to be able to either flesh out what’s in it or explain why the method used in the textbook is not what I’m doing in class. The text is also usually a good source of the basic practice problems and I don’t particularly relish re-inventing the wheel every time I teach a new course.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=608895031 Emily Fleming

    As a math tutor (grade three through end of high school pre-calculus this year), I’m torn. I don’t have access to as many resources as Actual Teachers (ie, the people who do the same job as I do, but have to worry about thirty-forty students at a time plus paperwork and get less respect than they deserve), so I love having my students’ textbooks at hand so that I know the sample problems I do with them are at the same difficulty level as the one their teachers are using.

    With that said, I have concerns about the texts themselves. I live in Québec, and, while all of my students are doing math in English and speak English excellently, none of my high school students have English as a first language (two of them are francophone, and one of them speaks Punjabi as a first language). It’s all very well for the textbook to tell them that an angle subtends an arc, but nowhere does it say what on earth “subtends”‘ means, nor does it have a glossary. (And when it came to trig, one of my students was suddenly much more able to work out ratios once he knew what “adjacent” meant…”Oh! It means ‘next to? OH.”) The book uses extremely dense mathematical language. I’m all for that – but at some point it needs to explain the concepts in plain English (or French, or whatever) so that they can understand the rest of it.

    I also taught myself calculus from a textbook in CEGEP – my professor, while a great guy who cared about teaching and his students, had an extremely accented, very low voice, so it was hard for me to follow the lectures for the first month or so until I got used to listening to it. The textbook enabled me to prepare for the lessons, and catch up on the tricks I missed during them.

    I think a textbook can be an extraordinary tool to use alongside classes, provided it’s a good textbook. I do agree though that there are so many additional tools as well; I don’t however think it’s a good idea to eliminate any of them. I learn very well by reading things and doing things myself. Youtube videos work well for one of my students. One of my younger students gets great mileage from manipulatives. Give people access to all the possible resources.

    … but oh, please, make math textbooks lighter. All those poor spines… ;)

    • Annie

      Just for the record, you are an actual teacher too! You perform a very valuable service and fill a void that, without you, many kids would get lost in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

    My high school used the CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) book series. They are not like any math text book have have seen since. We watched math videos and did lots of math stuff in Excel and programmed our calculators (this was 1994-1998).

    Books are great because they build on the concepts well. The key is to get the right book. I think most math books are dry and boring. Check out CPM: http://www.cpm.org.

  • Gus Snarp

    Right now my school district is running a parent survey asking what they should cut from the budget since the voters refused to approve a small tax increase, the state has been cutting funding to public schools for years, and the law mandating vouchers and charter schools has resulted in a full 20% of the districts budget being spent on private school vouchers and charter schools.

    There were a number of priorities grouped together and we were asked to identify our top three spending priorities. There were a lot of problems with the way this was structured (for example, all extra curricular activities were grouped together, so saying that athletics is not a priority is the same as saying band and theater are not priorities). But one of the items was textbooks, and after reading this, I sort of wish I could take the survey again and rate textbooks lower.

    With these kinds of problems in school funding, and with better materials available at lower cost, there could be a huge benefit in eliminating textbooks. I think the biggest problems with this are ensuring access in poor households for both parents and students, but I don’t think that’s an insurmountable problem, particularly in the long term.

  • supercsc

    You should use the Art of Problem Solving line of books. They strongly encourage outside of the box thinking, and are much cheaper than most hardback textbooks.
    Related is this website, which would also be a good educational resource:
    http://www.artofproblemsolving.com/

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

    One of my college professors read straight from the book. It was mindnumbingly boring, I didn’t learn anything, and I dropped the class after two weeks because it was so boring. The class – History of Art – should never have been that freaking boring!

  • Rebecca Sparks

    As an undergrad, my textbook bane was the new version syndrome.  Every two to three years the publishers would come out with a new version, reshuffling chapters and changing maybe 20-40 pages of text.  This usually doesn’t introduce cutting edge scholarship; it is designed to cut into the thriving reused textbook market.  So sometimes you’d shell out $80 for a textbook you couldn’t sell back at the end of the semester, or one memorable year I bought the wrong version online, because it didn’t indicate that there was another version available.

  • http://twitter.com/BrookLaa Andy Laa

    Good on ya – that’s the sign of a good teacher but…this is an Atheist blog, dude.

    Anyway, this is the first non-Atheist post I’ve seen here, so fair enough.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=592801059 Bastian Alexander Fromherz

    I’m a senior in high school and currently taking calc. For the past 4 years I’ve been liking math more and more, but I’ve also realized that the textbooks (which are much longer than 80-100 pages) almost never help me if I’m stuck. The explanations are all over the place, if they even relate to what we do in class, and I always end up going to my parents, friends, or the internet. I’d rather just have a longer math class, because learning, and practicing, with a teacher, and other students, is more fun, and more helpful, than from a list of silly problems.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X