Monday, December 24, 2007

Trust teachers to select their own textbooks 6

[See post 1 for context.]

Some people have concerns about teachers choosing their own textbooks. They worry, for example, that teachers will just use the new edition of the same book they adopted last time. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Let’s suppose they do. What are the negative consequences? They have adopted a state-approved physics textbook. One they are familiar with. One who’s nuances they know. One they have worked with before. Is this really so bad?

The assumption among people who worry that teachers will adopt the same text is that those teachers will “stagnate.” They presume that a new and unfamiliar textbook would energize an otherwise unmotivated instructor. They must also be concerned that a motivated teacher would slump into lethargy if allowed to use the same text from one adoption cycle to another. I disagree. An unmotivated teacher will not gain motivation by having a different text foisted upon him or her. And an enthusiastic teacher will not lose that enthusiasm as a consequence of using a familiar textbook.

Suppose someone arbitrarily took your computer (or day-planner, PDA, cell phone, etc.) from you and replaced it with a newer model. You had been using a PC, so it was replaced by a Macintosh. (If you had been a Mac user, you will now be a PC user.) Your files are gone—you’ll have to reconstruct them. But this will keep you from stagnating in your daily management techniques. You had obviously lost your enthusiasm, and this will spark your time-management creativity. Who among us would enjoy living out such a scenario? Who thinks the benefits would outweigh the impediments?

Physics teachers can be quite vigorous and creative when it comes to building and maintaining their programs of instruction. Suppose a teacher were saddled with a book not of his or her choosing. That teacher would likely see to it that the previously used book remained the book used in class. Few expenditures are as worthless as new books that do not get used. The threat of jackbooted old-book removal squads forceably impounding previous editions does little to foster an atmosphere of school-district cooperation.

Again, let us do our jobs (teaching physics) as best we know how. That includes the privilege of selecting the textbooks used in our classes. We will choose State-Approved texts, and we will address the content standards. But each of us will do it in his or her own way.

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