Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #30
The Trouble with textbooks.
I’m stealing this from a book I read this summer for a graduate course on teaching reading in the content areas: Subjects Matter by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Steven Zemelman.
Trouble #1 – textbooks are superficial.
Now, if you’ve seen the size of a damn textbook today, this just seems counterintuitive. Those massive suckers are huge. How can they possible superficial?
The problem the authors come up with is that their girth is the problem: they try to cover too much and, thus, don’t go into great depth on anything really.
They include tiny portions of a massive number of ideas and concepts. However, they rarely go fully in-depth on one subject.
We see this in the realm of English. Think about one of the stalwarts of American Lit, Edgar Allan Poe. Most students get three short stories (probably “The Black Cat” in junior high followed by “The Cask of Amontillado” in early high school and either “The Pit and the Pendulum” or the Masque of the Red Death” later in high school. Of course, there is probably also one of his poems, assuredly “Annabelle Lee.” But that’s about it.
That’s a thimble size sample from one of the “biggies” in American lit! The same holds true for Hemingway, Faulkner, Dickenson, and so on. That just isn’t enough time to fully learn about the author and her or his work in depth. At all.
But we get one story or poem from each of these great ones per year so we can fit in all the other stuff, and continue to learn little along the way. But we can point to our textbook and the curriculum and claim that we have covered it. Leave us alone.
Can any textbook really do any subject justice? And that’s just scratching the surface. How about limiting World History to 9 weeks? What a joke!