To Textbook or Not to Textbook

The state of Texas has decided that this is the year that Social Studies gets to purchase new textbooks.  And why shouldn’t they, it’s only been twelve years since the last textbook adoption for Social Studies.  As a brief aside, think about that for a moment…what in your life has been around for more than twelve years.  Twelve years ago I had just graduated from college, unmarried, and wondering what I was going to do with my life.  All that is beside the point though.  As I sat in a meeting listening to different textbook publishers extolling the virtues of their product and subtly bashing the other publishers, I began to realize that maybe publishers have gone beyond the requirements for a textbook.

First of all, textbook publishers seem to think that all teachers have no brain and would like for someone to do their jobs for them.  All of the publishers we looked at had pre-made lesson plans designed to cover all the TEKS we need to cover.  While I appreciate all the time spent on all the lesson plans, I’ll never use any of them.  I’d also like to survey all teachers and see how many would plan on using any of these lesson plans except in extreme scenarios.  I’m not saying that there are zero scenarios where these would be useful, but I’m saying they should be the exception, not the rule.  If districts see it beneficial for a teacher to use textbook curriculum rather than design lessons to meet the needs of their students, why even bother certifying teachers in the first place?

Second, every publisher hyped up their outside partnerships with other content specific experts, but do I need that?  Publishers attempted to sell us that documentaries, foldables, mind-maps, animations, visuals, primary sources, and audio content were top of the line and that only they have access to them.  In reality, little to none of the content was designed specifically for their textbook from these outside agencies.  I can access almost all of the useful material without buying the textbook because it was made for other purposes and was copied and pasted into the textbooks.  I could at least make the argument that the textbooks could be more useful and cost a lot less for the districts if they left out all these partnerships and concentrated on their textbook.

The main benefit I saw with the publishers is that they are making the long, slow transition into the digital age.  Publishers, by nature, prefer print media, but the rest of the world prefers digital media.  All the publishers we looked at had some sort of online component that could be used on either a computer or smart phone.  Some of the publishers did it better than others, but all attempted digital content.  Until 100% of students have access to the internet at home, textbooks will be necessary, but at least they are starting the transition.

Textbooks are not the devil.  I choose not to use them in my classroom as much as the publishers would like, but I do see benefits of textbooks in the classroom.  I wonder if publishers assume too many teachers need their bloated offerings to do their job.  I also wonder if all this bloat is “necessary” or ” trying to make districts feel good about their purchase”.

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