The Case Against Books

Textbooks, that is.  I’d like to make the case that textbooks and memorization of content are at the heart of much of what is wrong with primary and secondary education in the US.

I came to the United States at the age of 21.  Of course my elementary and secondary schooling is now decades old and things have surely changed in my country of origin.  However, back then we made our own “textbooks” by taking down lecture notes, doing research, writing essays and adding illustrations.  As this was pre-internet, we spent a lot of time in the library.  Our books were periodically turned in and graded.  I remember once that I left my geography book on the train and I had to borrow a friend’s and reconstruct about ten weeks worth of work.  The forced re-write probably accounts for the fact that I still remember a lot about world climate zones, trade winds, and Krakatoa.

These days student-created “books” are more likely to be blogs, videos or other forms of web content.  Not only would that be lots of fun, there’d be no “I left my book on the train” catastrophes, either.

The “no-book” advantages include:

  • Avoiding the cost of millions of dollars in overpriced textbooks
  • Engaging students with hands-on work that includes primary research
  • Avoiding pre-packaged content where memorization is the key activity

We want different student outcomes.  Let’s radically change instruction and get rid of those damned textbooks.

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