Thursday, October 06, 2005

Textbooks

Textbooks weren't always as big as they are today.

And I don't just mean history textbooks. Sure, there's more history today than there was when I was in high school, so maybe history books need to be thicker. But English grammar and composition hasn't changed that much since the early 80's, and high school-level math hasn't changed at all.

So why are the books so huge nowadays? Why are teenagers' backpacks tearing from the weight of the books?

I'll tell you why. It's because publishers (and others) think teenagers are stupid. They absolutely *cannot* do problems unless there's a marginally-related picture nearby to draw their attention. They absolutely *cannot* read unless their eyes are focused on the page with a one inch border of empty page around all the type, adding several square inches to each page and cubic inches to each book. And why does every problem have to be about buying CD's? Don't kids buy anything else? Or can't they understand anything but buying things?

The textbook should be a tool. Whether the teacher chooses to amplify what's in the text or to have the text complement classroom instruction, the text should not be a mixture of academics and entertainment. Neither should it insult the students by implying that they're not capable of taking their textbooks seriously.

Instead, we give them books that are easily help up to mockery--if the kids can lift them. Backpacks are too heavy. There isn't enough room in lockers.

Entire forests are being clearcut for these tomes!

5 comments:

KimJ said...

Don't forget all the useless tangents. Every textbook I had in high school, from math to history, had to fill each chapter with little "Interesting trivia" snippets, which 99 times out of 100 were mini-biographies of women or minorities who did some tiny notable thing that tangentially related to the subject matter at hand.

My favorite was the US history textbook so large it required TWO books (and, thankfully, two years) to cover. Every single chapter had at least three quarters of a page devoted to the plight of women, blacks, Native Americans, immigrants, etc. I understand these need to be covered, but every single section boiled down to, "It sucked to be a [fill-in-the-blank] during [fill-in-the-time-period]." Did we need to read the same thing every chapter?

Walter E. Wallis said...

Wait for the $100 laptop. Sell your stock in printers.

Old Math said...

One of the beauties of mathematics is how compressed it is. A few symbols can express a complex idea (c^2 = a^2 + b^2). So why is an Algebra 1 textbook two inches thick when the actual ideas could fit into a tenth of the volume?

Mostly photographs. They are there because the textbook publishers can charge $60 per book and the school districts are naïve enough to buy them. I don't necessarily blame the students; I don't think they even look at the pictures, let alone the equations hidden among all the pictures.

Darren said...

I have a book called Academic Algebra, copyright 1913, 1941. It measures 5.5 x 7.5 x 1 inch. It starts with negative numbers and algebraic expressions (pre-algebra), goes through factoring and simultaneous equations and graphs and powers and roots, and ends with logarithms (Algebra II).

There are no pictures, the few graphics used relate directly to the instruction or to a problem, and there are no factoids or "did you know's" in there. Nothing but algebra.

Amazing text. It would fit in *any* backpack or locker without difficulty. But like Old Math said, the publishers wouldn't make a mint on them....

Amerloc said...

And I learned more about the magic language makes possible from a Norton anthology... maybe 5x7, an inch-and-a-half thick or so, with miniscule print, no pictures...

And just to reinforce my lefty bias, from a King James Bible about the same size.

And yes, Old Math is right - the kids don't look at the pictures or read the sidebars anyway. Maybe it's a hangover from the corporate packaging geniuses who would enclose a toothpick in a bubble-pack to hang on a rack...