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Monday, March 24, 2014

6 Reasons To Ignore Your Textbook

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You know those 10 pound paperweights that your teachers expect you to carry around with you all the time? This may surprise some of you youngsters but... Fun Fact: They're actually books that have information written in them.

Bear in mind, these books are archaic examples of information transmission that should largely be regarded as symbols to keep your teachers happy. The tradition of school providing large books of information while the students ignore them is expected to continue indefinitely.

In case you're one of the few students that actually thinks they're absolutely vital. Here are the 6 reason your textbook is virtually useless.

*This is for the vast majority of courses. When there is an exception, you'll know it.

1. Your Teacher Probably Didn't Read It

The number of teachers that actually go through textbooks for their classes thoroughly is dismally low. This is particularly true for high school professors. The majority of high school teachers have very few options in selecting the textbook there class will require. That gives teachers very little reason to dig through each for the best possible textbook.

Some high schools even have budget concerns that force them to use textbooks that aren't even related to the information they're required to teach students. The standards are updated every year. The textbooks are virtually never.

College professors have a little more freedom in textbook selection but they're only human. They can't spend six months of full-time work exploring every page of 3 or 4 different textbooks. Even if they're disciplined enough to make a good effort, they have to balance their time with their need for a textbook.

In college and high school, the course rarely is designed to the textbook anyway...

2. The Textbook Is Not The Course

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Textbook authors cannot create a textbook that's appropriate for an individual teacher's needs. The goal of a textbook author is to create something that sells to a wide variety of courses. Unless your teacher wrote the textbook, there is no reason to believe the textbook and course have much correlation with each other.

Teachers, having not read the majority of the textbook, have to make a number of tough decisions when designing the course work. A teacher doesn't want to lead a student too far from the textbook but they also don't want to leave a major holes in the student's knowledge. That means they're going to have to veer off the course of the textbook in just about every situation. In my experience, most teachers prefer to go miles away from the textbook than to leave their students without something important...

In fact, many teachers design their course without considering the textbook the slightest bit. It's a side note at best. That means you could spend two years memorizing every word of the textbook and still struggle to pass the teacher's course.

A textbook has a lot of valuable information but that is part of the problem...

3. It's Too Much Information

When textbooks are being written, as mentioned before, they're being targeted for as many courses as possible. That means they need to include stuff that will make every teacher at least a little happy. Unfortunately for the students, that means the textbooks are loaded with irrelevant information. It gets even worse though. Since it's all true information, there is no logical way to distinguish the information you need to memorize from the stuff you can ignore.

There is no practical way for a person to memorize all the information in the average textbook today without wasting hours and hours of time. The truth is, most of the time a student spends reading it is useless. (Have you ever spent 20 minutes reading to only gain 1 or 2 test answers? It's completely inefficient.)

Textbooks are not designed with the students in mind (No. Don't believe those silly letters at the beginning...)

4. It's Designed To Engage Teachers Not Students

Textbook publishers publish textbooks that make teachers happy. They send out copies of their textbook for judgment by teachers. The textbooks that get printed in large quantities are the ones that the teachers approve of. The sad part about this is that teachers already know the subject. They can't properly judge how effectively a textbook introduces it (only how accurately.)

Most of the teacher targeting problems come from the good intentions of the writers. Many subjects are unbelievably deep. The people writing textbooks on a subject can go right into the depths of a subject. Teachers are usually also capable of this. A textbook writer can't get away with “almost” true statements that simplify a subject because they're trying to sell these textbooks as accurate to teachers.

If I were writing a textbook on making a sandwich, I couldn't get away with saying “spread the mayo on the bread.” Teachers can object that the statement isn't quite true in a number of cases. Instead I'd have to write, “spread the mayonnaise on the two interior sides of the bread slices before placing both slices mayo side up.” The complexity of the information is increased significantly.

5. Effectiveness AND Politics Decided The Textbook

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Textbooks aren't always decided with the best of intentions. Many final textbook decisions have very little to do with quality content. By the time the option gets to the teacher, the teacher is forced to select the lesser of multiple textbook evils.

Publishers have gotten caught red handed using a number of underhanded textbooks to get their books into classrooms. They've even gone as far as bribing teachers. Textbook publishing is one of the most profitable businesses in the world and schools pay them a whole lot of money. While most of the business is reasonably fair, some of it is downright disgusting.

6. It's Not The Perfect Source

Oh your teachers will probably hate me for this one. Textbooks are usually not extraordinarily accurate. Sometimes textbooks become downright jokes in their field. The goal of textbook publishers and authors is to be accurate enough. The information you find from a textbook, is not much (if any) more likely to be true than any other source.

In fact, experts comparing Wikipedia articles to Encyclopedia articles noticed similar levels of accuracy. (No, it's still not an acceptable source. No ones name is at stake for it being wrong. Use Wikipedia's citations if anything.) This is common with most information sources. There is no perfect place to get your information. Textbooks may have them all in one nice place but it's not necessarily a more accurate source.

Now, you won't be able to get away with ignoring your textbook in every class but don't feel so bad when you can get away with it. Oftentimes, teachers only pick a textbook because they're expected to do it. It's much better to focus your studies on the information your teacher provides you with. Don't expect the textbook to teach you what you need to do to pass the test. That's where most students get led astray.

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