Most Textbooks Should Just Stay On the Shelf, argues Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.
Textbooks still make good dictionaries, with glossaries at the back. They also reassure parents, who don’t get to see teachers in action but are comforted, in a perverse way, that their kids’ schoolbooks seem just as dry and predictable as theirs were. But like the newspapers that have been my life, textbooks are creeping slowly toward obsolescence. Jay Diskey, executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, said his companies are moving into “Web sites, podcasts, electronic books, software, courseware, online tutoring tips, educational games, video products” and many other ways to learn.
Big books have failed to hold the attention of teenagers leafing through the pages with music blasting in their earbuds and text messages filling their cellphone screens. Facts and ideas, in my experience, are more likely to sink in if introduced in group exercises, exploiting the adolescent urge to belong. Teachers have their classes organize book clubs, recreate the Constitutional Convention, raise animals, write and perform plays, publish online magazines.
I realize many textbooks are poorly written and stuffed with so many pictures and sidebars that they’re hard to follow. Electronic books will not cripple your backpack-wearing child either. But can we really dispense with texts to live in a brave new world of zine-writing and group projects?