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In Defense of Books…

May 16, 2010

Today I read this twitter post…

“I feel horrible for kids who have history teachers that use a textbook. Someday they’ll realize that’s why kids aren’t engaged w/history.”

….and it made me feel horrible.  Now I don’t teach history, but I know people who do.  Some of them use books and are absolutely wonderful teachers, others use them and are not as wonderful.  From this anecdotal evidence, I would conclude that the use of books is not the determining factor in whether students are engaged with history.  Am I missing some well known study that disputes this?

Please tell me that we aren’t swinging the educational pendulum so far from center that we are going to criticize teachers for using books.  It seems to me that books can be a very handy thing in education and, if used properly, one can learn a great deal from them.  In fact, one of my favorite things is to have a student bring up an example of something they read in the textbook.  It means they READ!  and…. they tied it to what we were doing in the classroom. To me, this is a wonderful thing — something to be celebrated.  Are we seriously going to start saying that textbooks should be… burned?

Don’t get me wrong, I am very anxious about the future of textbooks and have some suggested improvements for the way they are  produced/used.  My sense is that for k-12 education, textbooks should very soon be free and electronic.  They should be free because there is no knowledge in a textbook which is not generally accepted and already available in a variety of reputable forms on the web. I know that wikipedia already offers a function in which you can generate your own textbook by selecting materials from the site.  There are also any number of epub services in which you can generate your own ebook.  Already, I’m sure, there are many teachers and professors who are making use of these services for their students.  (There may be inherent problems with this if used irresponsibly, I admit.)

Secondly, by making these books electronic, we open up limitless possibilities.  We have the capacity to make these documents virtually come alive by embedding in them all sorts of videos, tutorials and interactive images and practice exercises.  I would love to have my textbook in a form that I can post my own annotations and links in a way that makes it personalized and relevant to my unique classroom.  I would actually pay money for having an ebook like this (at least for now).

Whatever the form, however, textbooks are generally produced by experts in their fields and provide an excellent resource for students.  Learning to learn from reading is an vital skill and should be encouraged whether it be from textbooks, articles or websites.  I defend any teacher who chooses to use them in support of an excellent classroom.  Perhaps the problem the twitter post was trying to rail against, is the boring teacher — not the boring book.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 16, 2010 9:50 pm

    I have two history degrees. I hate reading textbooks. They turn me off to history. If they do that to me I cannot even imagine the impact on a kid in my class. A text book is a standardized piece of reading that was picked for kids that were unknown by the person picking it. I would much rather hand pick awesome and interesting secondary and primary sources for my kids–sources that change from year to year, and from class to class. Picking sources allows me to individualize my class, and it allows me to give the students choices.

    As for those teachers who teach history and use textbooks…yes some would be called wonderful. But you have to be careful about who is doing the name calling..other teachers who see a streamlined organized class and call that wonderful? Or are the kids who are stuck in their seats reading a textbook the ones who are calling the teacher wonderful?

    Also, the more recent history books are just getting worse by the year. They are trying to become some kind of multi-media entertainment system. Open one up and you can’t even figure out where to focus. If someone made a straight forward book that relied on good stories and primary sources without mucking it all up with graphs, maps, images, little boxes of facts, etc, I would suggest buying it in a second. Oh wait…I did do that for my district but they said a teacher couldn’t be interesting with a book that had just high quality text!

    Enjoyed your point-of-view. Good post!

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