Friday, May 12, 2006

Textbooks

We've had some interesting, and conflicting, proposals in the legislature recently, proposals relating to textbooks.

1. Most recently, which I've written about here, would require our textbooks to discuss the contributions to California of gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities. This would make textbooks bigger.
2. Another legislator, for whom I have nothing but contempt, proposed a bill that would require textbooks be no longer than 200 pages. This would make textbooks smaller.
3. Many high schools don't have lockers--students might stash drugs or firearms in them. Students have to carry their books around with them all day. Periodically we hear about suggestions for laws that would limit the weight of the books a student would have to carry in his/her backpack. Such a law presumably would require textbooks to be smaller.

I have an algebra textbook published in the 1940s. It's 7.5"x5.5"x1", and that 1" is measured from outside the cover to outside! It has more algebra in it than the textbooks my students currently use, which have perhaps three to four times the volume. Has there been *that* much new algebra to learn since the 1940s?

My textbooks in school weren't as big as they are today. Then again, they didn't have glossy pictures of unrelated items that are supposed to get the student interested. No, we were expected to be internally motivated to some extent, and the thought that they should actually have to entertain us probably never occurred to my teachers or to the publishers of textbooks.

So why are students' textbooks so big and heavy today? What silly requirements has the legislature imposed for our textbooks? Why is student achievement today not as high as it was in decades past?

Let's not blame MTV, at least right of the bat.

8 comments:

Cameron said...

There's so much volume because there are like 70 questions per section, even though we only do, what, 15? Maybe up to 40 if you're in a bad mood?

Darren said...

15-20, Cameron. You know I don't assign 40. And when am I ever in a bad mood? Besides now, I mean? =)

EllenK said...

The most laughable thing is that we have an ART textbook. I don't use it for anything other than vocabulary. The only thing I can think of that would be more ridiculous is having a MEDITATION textbook. The first instructions would be to close your eyes. I think publishers are so busy trying to be all things to all people, especially in states with high profile groups demanding inclusion such as California and Texas, that they end up with books so full of meaningless junk that the teachers don't use them, the kids can't understand them and they simply take up space. Your algebra book from 1940 probably was printed in black and white, no cute side stories or profiles of famous mathematicians or examples of "How we can use this in everyday life...." And yet, like the testing industry, the textbook industry is rife with lobbyists that make sure their name is on the list of providers when that rubber stamp comes around. It's even worse at the college level, with bookstores making millions off of kids that are over their heads in students loans. And it makes no sense since all of this same information could be given electronically at less cost and with more efficiency. Stupid is as stupid does......

Darren said...

Actually, there *is* some color in that algebra book. In addition to black print on white pages, there's a bit of brown and blue on some of the graphs :-)

But you're right, there's no feel-good stuff in it. In fact, it couldn't be any more direct!

rightwingprof said...

This could have something to do with it (-:

EllenK said...

OMG....that was so funny....(-:

Anonymous said...

It's all about the money, honey. I started a master's program recently and my most recent class, using technology in the classroom, has one small paperback book which cost me $84. The class is 3/4 of the way over and I have used it once. What will I get for it when I try to sell it back (assuming there isn't a new addition out)? Maybe 20 bucks if I'm lucky. I realize I am talking about books for secondary ed. and not K-12 but I know there is a lot of money in textbooks. Getting a district to buy your company's books writes your meal ticket.

Darren said...

Anonymous, of course you're correct. I've often lamented that I'm in the wrong part of the education field. Writing textbooks would be quite lucrative.