By: Pat Austin
Some school districts are ditching textbooks; case in point, consider the Life Sciences Secondary School in Manhattan who threw away copies of math, science, and ELA texts as well as copies of Romeo and Juliet and A Streetcar Named Desire in favor of new technology and digital learning.
The rejects include stacks of “Campbell Biology” — a college-level text which sells for $150 new — formerly used by kids in Advanced Placement biology. Now the AP class has a cart of laptops, and students watch videos online.
Swanson and Premo, who took the helm of the 616-student joint middle and high school in 2015, sent aides from classroom to classroom in November to collect the books. Workers also emptied book storage closets. Hundreds of tomes were tossed over the Thanksgiving break.
“They made an announcement that they were getting rid of the books because they were antiquated and outdated, and we should be using new technology,” a teacher said. “I hid some of my books to prevent them being taken.”
Did you catch that last line? “I hid some of my books to prevent them from being taken.” I have done the exact same thing.
This is not an extreme situation or a weird charter school going rogue. This is happening all over the country and if it hasn’t hit your district yet, it will. It happened in mine.
I teach in a public high school in which we aren’t allowed to use literature textbooks. They are no longer considered top tier materials. Instead, students are given handouts and worksheets which are duplicated en masse in our districts resource department.
It’s all part of Common Core.
Some school districts are relying on iPads, Chromebooks, and computers to fill the void, but schools without that sort of technology just use copies.
Common Core advocates sing the praises of this:
Fortunately, teaching without a traditional text has had unintended benefits. It has forced teachers to unpack standards and think deliberately about what strategies can be used to teach both content and practice standards. A sophomore teacher who once taught ratios and proportions “by the book” was pushed to think about the progression of the standards and even used the SAP Coherence Map to research how they are first introduced in sixth grade. During a recent meeting, a teacher remarked, “Writing my own questions has made me understand what the kids really need to know. Seeing structure in expressions is so much bigger than I thought.”
Moreover, we may think all of the chapters of a textbook are Common Core-aligned, but there are often topics that don’t attend to the Major Work of each grade. By ditching the textbook, we have effectively let go of non-aligned topics and opened up more time to focus in-depth on the standards.
Current studies show that students learn better from the printed, rather than digital, word. Granted, the current generation in schools have never known a non-digital life. They’ve had digital technology since they were born, but there still is something to be said for quiet study with a text – one you can annotate, highlight, think about, refer back to. This just doesn’t happen with a digital text which is so temporary in nature.
And the printed copies, well, they’re just “handouts.” That’s how the student see them: worksheets.
There is so much wrong with all of this that there isn’t enough space here to get into it all, from the psychology of the temporary text to the manipulation of big government into my classroom. What about the costs? Is it cheaper to keep making copies every term for every student? Or is it more expensive? How fast does the technology get outdated and have to be updated? Upgraded? Maintained? What about technology interruptions? There is an entire field of science about how technology has changed the hard-wiring of our brains.
This line from the aforementioned article bothers me:
“It has forced teachers to unpack standards and think deliberately about what strategies can be used to teach both content and practice standards.”
Get past the lingo: “unpack the standards” and what you have is sort of insulting. We’re going to take away your textbooks which you rely too heavily on and force you to think about your job.
Am I being too defensive? Perhaps. But as twenty-three year teaching veteran I can tell you that these fads come and go every five years or so. This is the current new thing. Soon we will see the value in textbooks again. We will discover that reading only two chapters of The Great Gatsby rather than the entire novel has been a tragic mistake. We will understand that kids need the printed word in their hand, in a book to take home, to properly learn and synthesize material.
All I know for sure right now is that public education is in a dire, dangerous place. How we got to this point is no longer as important as figuring out how to get back to solid ground.