Saturday, April 15, 2006

::::Gasp!::: Textbooks

I've always believed as Susan Wise Bauer does that "'reading texts' (books with snippets of stories and poems followed by comprehension exercises) turn reading into a chore..." and that they "mutilate real books by pulling sections out of context and presenting them as 'assignments.' Even worse are textbooks that provide selections designed for textbook use, which means that your child spends his time reading generic prose produced by textbook writers instead of stories written by masters." (p. 57, The Well-Trained Mind) I agree that "on the whole, science textbooks lack coherence. They cover, in hit-or-miss fashion, everything from rain forests to diet and nutrition in no particular order. And they never devote more than six weeks or so to any one topic before moving on to the next." (p. 159, TWTM) So, throughout the grammar stage we've used whole, "living books" from the library by the cartload over the years, as well as carefully chosen history and science encyclopedias.

Now, on to the logic stage...

"As the logic stage progresses, you'll be using more and more original sources, steering away from "textbooks." Many textbooks are boring. And most present information in a way that's actively incompatible with the intent of the logic stage.... A textbook leaves nothing for the child to investigate or question; it leaves no connections for the student to discover." (p. 237, TWTM)

I totally agree! But, my soon-to-be seventh grader is wanting textbooks next year. For every subject.

And you know what? I've actually ordered her a couple. I can understand why she wants them. She told me she wants all her books for all of her subjects lined up in her locker (yes, they each have single lockers next to their desks), and she wants to work her way through her textbooks all year until she's finished. Hey, that sounds great! As a teacher, that sounds wonderful to me, too. It's nice, neat, orderly progress.

But is it learning?

I hope I can somehow strike a balance between her need for order, predictability, and "checking the box" and my desire for her to interact with great literature and factual information rather than a compilations of snippets of literature, or dreck that was written (for the most part) by committees for committees. (Oops, my bias is showing. ) Surely there's a way to incorporate both textbooks and original sources (and still have a life), leaving adequate room for her mind to apply the logic she's developing to the textbooks she's reading. Besides, there's also not enough room to put the public library (or all the books on her 7th grade reading list) in a nice neat row in her locker...

There's certainly plenty for me to "investigate and question" as we plan for next year and as we draw ever closer to the high school years.


Myrtle said...

"A textbook leaves nothing for the child to investigate or question; it leaves no connections for the student to discover."

My theory is that our culture values a collection of facts as if it were knowledge itself. This isn't a bad approach if you are training someone for a particular job, but it's probably not what makes for a well-educated individual. We don't want to have to do the hard work of figuring anything out. We want to be spoon fed a list of facts that we'll accept without questioning them too much. The logic stage is a good point to start transitioning from memorizing to thinking. Textbooks don't seem to make that transition though.

Thanks for bringing up this subject. It's a topic that I've been spending more and more time thinking about.

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