Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Need for Textbooks

I was troubleshooting a computer today right next to a poster with our tornado instructions on it. As I was waiting on a reboot I started reading it and this paragraph jumped out at me.

If there is not time to move rooms, students should assume the duck and cover position under tables or desks in the room. If tables or desks are not available, students should hold textbooks over their heads.

Ahhh, now I finally understand the need for textbooks in K-12. Somehow, "duck and cover" and "hold[ing] textbooks over their heads" struck me as particularly appropriate descriptions of some of the issues facing education.


  1. It's amazing how things like that just jump out at us sometimes.

    I've been teaching ms all day, and I have not yet had to duck and cover. I have held my teacher's edition over my head a few times.

  2. In my days in elementary school, we practiced going under our desks in the event of nuclear attack. I can't remember the use of books having any positive effect however. Maybe they would have made me feel safer.

  3. Textbooks also serve as collectors of airborne asbestos. They filter the air. As a conspiracy theorists textbooks exist to protect public school systems from class action law suits.

  4. I'm guessing this guy didn't get elected as the states superintendent of education. One of his main running points was using old textbooks as shields. There is even video of him shooting (through) them.


  5. My south Louisiana elementary school must not have had enough money for the posters or the textbooks. In fifth grade when we practiced for nuclear attacks, we went into the hallway and assumed the duck position - but we had no cover accept our arms.

    Thanks - you made my day start with a good chuckle!

  6. It is certainly a new wrinkle on the desktop vs. laptop argument.

  7. I am a proponent of options--giving our students the option to use a textbook for reading/ in the case of a tornado OR permitting an online text. I do not fear natural disaster but, instead, am simply a fan of not reading things on the computer and allowing my students to make the choice that best suits them.

  8. @lgaffney - I wasn't implying that kids shouldn't read text in paper form. But I see very little evidence that textbooks have much educational merit. Take this article, for example.

  9. Ever since I read Howard Zinn's People's History in college I knew that I wouldn't rely on textbooks as my main resource for teaching Social Studies courses. In fact, 4years into teaching Social Studies and the closest I've come is using wikibooks. James Loewen's book Lies My Teacher Told Me backs up my hate with facts to support why. Luckily, teaching at an online school I don't have to use textbooks, but if I was in the classroom I think I would use them to make chairs for the extra kids who dont have a place to sit.

  10. @Mike Porter: As far as laptops go, maybe we should be thinking less about EEE PCs and more about Panasonic Toughbooks.

  11. @BenH I think the price of the Panasonic Toughbooks are a bit restrictive (if the link I looked at on Amazon is the usual price). The HP Mini Note is about 1/3 the price, around the same weight and size, and probably not as "tough" but it is spill proof.

  12. Dear Mr. Fisch,
    I thought this was an interesting blog, not just because of the fact that it is important to have text books handy in case of a tornado. But I also started thinking about how many textbooks we will have in the near future. As we all know, technology is becoming more advanced and essential in our lives as we use more of it in our daily jobs and even at school. If we begin using all of this new technology, will text books slowly fade from our school curriculum? It is an interesting thing to think about.

    Today in my English class we had talked about things similar to this and had discussed how we might change the school if we had wanted to. A couple of us had said that they wanted to use more technology in classes. I thought that this was would be a pretty good idea except, like someone else had said, we can’t let technology do all the work, or else what is the point? But like I have said, since we have so much to use, why not use it to expand on our learning?

  13. I look forward to the day when instead of spending money on textbooks, which are difficult to keep updated due to the ever-changing state standards in Texas, we choose to spend money on laptops so our curriculum can be updated at little or no additional cost.

  14. I am textbook-free in my class, and the only one who is angry about it are the salesdroids from the textbook monopoly's.

    Since I teach a fairly fluid subject (Information Technology), books are just a bit out of sync with what I teach in class to ensure our kids are ready for jobs in the 21st century.

    As other commenter's pointed out, some kids will need printed materials, and that has not been lost with me.

    I create my 'text' in a few ways so it can be downloaded, printed listened to, or just viewed.

    And in case of tornado, we just have our kids build bunkers with the 50-pound backpacks full of books from their other classes. :)

  15. Brilliant analogy Karl. I had the same type of jump out at me moment the other day when I went into the teacher work room and turned towards the humming sound of the scantron grader and saw a box of 5 1/2 inch floppy disks...When was the last time you used a floppy? Do computers even have drives FOR floppy disks any more? Wonder when we will say the same about text books?

  16. My first thought is, why wouldn't tables or desks be available? Have those been cut out of some budgets too? Read all the crazy headlines in public schools and education at http://detentionslip.org.

  17. Mr.Fisch
    I understand how this quote would stand out to you. You know, as well as I do, that textbooks are going to be a thing of the past. Technology has already grown to the point where schools, such as mine, have laptops in their classrooms. Using textbooks as "cover" is a great idea, they are thick, hard, and if they get ripped and ruined it doesn’t matter because their time is up and technology is taking there place. Computers can do everything a textbook can do except cover your head during a tornado. Also textbooks don’t change daily even if new idea or theories are made. Computers blow away textbooks on many levels and one day, textbooks will just be used as tornado protection.

  18. Mr. Fisch,

    When I read this post I have to admit it made me laugh a little that textbooks’ only purpose is to protect our heads incase of a tornado. In a way I hope text books stick around because I don’t think my teacher would be too happy about me using a laptop to protect my head… in fact my body would probably be instructed to protect the laptop. This obviously saying that technology will soon completely replace all textbooks and maybe paper used in school altogether! If you think about what would be the harm in having online tests, or worksheets that you can just email the assignments to your teacher. It could save a whole lot of trees. I honestly can’t remember the last time I even brought home a textbook; I have always just accessed the online version from my computer at home. Then again what about the schools that are barely keeping up with having enough textbooks for each student, how could they afford to use laptops, or put the homework on a CD? I guess only time will tell what advancements will be made and how they will all work out.

  19. Mr. Fisch,
    I agree with your idea of using textbooks as merely a "cover". Technology is and has become so advanced why use textbooks with limited information when we can have unlimited info with computers? We have been using textbooks for a long time now but they are becoming athing of the past. Computers are so much more efficient. Textbooks are just another book for students to carry around school and at home. Almost all of us have computers at home that we can use for homework and e en textbooks online. We need to realize that technology is a part of us all and we need to advance with it. Textbooks should now only be used as tornado protection.

  20. Mr. Fisch,
    I can surely comprehend this idea that had a sudden run through in your mind. Nowadays, technology is a big part of education. As a student, we use computers to blog, research, type papers, etc. Computers are so much more efficient and easier to use a part of education. Technology is advancing more and more, I can not possibly imagine what it will be like later in the future. Textbooks seem old and forgotten, it is a classic way to learn, but also very inconvenient. It seems impossible for me personally to sit still at a desk and read straight through a textbook for more then half an hour. They are also quite a burden to heave in backpacks. And surely I agree, that it seems that the only uses of textbooks are to only seek the protection from tornadoes. The trigger thought of education only seems to create new ideas or problems.

  21. That is very funny to me because it seems like lately textbook are becoming more and more out dated. I think that textbooks are good but they are such a chore to bring home from school everyday. You can see how much that technology is replacing textbooks in the schools. In my English class all that we pretty much use is our laptops. Even my French and my math books are on the computer and probably a lot of my other classes to. I think that this is cool but the schools should still keep the textbooks anyway because not everyone has working internet or a computer. So it is definitely a convenience to have them on line, but it is good to have them at the schools to, especially during a tornado. I have nothing against textbooks, besides the fact that they are extremely heavy, but it is so much easier to have them on the computer so I don't have to bring much home after school.

  22. There are other uses for textbooks. Sometimes I use them to prop up my projector if I can't adjust the screen. My students use them as chin rests. When we go writing in places other than the classroom, we use the textbooks as something hard to write on. However, with this new knowledge of tornado protection and knowing my classroom's location in tornado alley I can add another use to my list. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, the pictures, we like to look at pictures too!

  23. @AHS Students - thanks for your comments. As you might have gleaned, I'm not a huge fan of textbooks, but that doesn't mean that I think you can't learn from them. I think you can, I just believe that most of the time you can learn better without them.

    @ethan - You're right, not everyone does have a computer or Internet access. Which is why I believe schools should be in the forefront of making sure that all students have access, otherwise the "digital divide" will continue to grow.

  24. Dear Mr. Fisch,
    I thought your blog was very well written. The fact that it was so simple and still had such a good impact truly amazed me. I kept looking back at your blog and thought to myself I think we are reaching the end of the textbook era. While text books are important they are also becoming less useful. We are advancing so far in technology soon everything will be online or be on a laptop.
    This happens in school to, while choosing our sophomore schedules children rushed to get the classes with technology and not just textbooks. I personally thought they were all crazy for all trying to have laptops but then I thought back and how much easier technology had made my life in English class. One I never got any hand cramps because I could do all my typing on my laptop, the projects were more advanced and more fun, and finally with using laptops I could use the internet to look up new facts unlike in a text book. Hopefully one day textbooks will be only for covering our heads during tornadoes.

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. Dear Mr. Fisch, 
I found this idea very interesting. It seems to be that textbooks are losing their power to newer technologies. I think in the near future text books will be out dated and all text books will be online so they can be accessed anywhere. Without text books the world would be a lot easier for many people. For one, there would be no more hauling of heavy books to and from school. Another reason no more physical textbooks would be easier is there could never be any lost or damaged textbooks. It seems as though the online textbooks seem to be superior to physical textbooks.

    There are some negatives to put all things digital though. For example if a computer someone was using shut down he or she would not be able to access the information that they need. Another problem with making textbooks all digital is for the time being it would not be practical cost wise. Not everyone can afford to by there own laptop and the school would not be able to provide enough laptops to accommodate every student. I think the concept is a great idea but that this concept will not become a reality for several years.

  27. Mr. Fisch,
    This post struck me as interesting for many reasons. The first reason being that it is weird to think that textbooks would, or even could, be used as protection in the event of a tornado. It is odd that schools have come up with an alternate use for textbooks because many times you look at them and ask the very well known question that students ask daily, “when am I ever going to use this?” Well kids, you will actually use textbooks, that is, if there ever was a tornado and you had no other form of protection. This does not mean; however, that it answers the question of using the contents within the book :). Another reason that I found this post interesting is because it made me think, “I wonder if our textbooks will soon be all online, is this when the old text books will really come in handy?” The future of our textbooks came to mind. With the incredible advancement of technology that has been rapidly increasing over the years, it would not surprise me one bit if all of our textbooks were put online and students would carry laptops around, instead of books. Then what would we use for protection if a tornado struck? This post was great! Thank you for making me think! :)
    ~Sam H.

  28. This is simply a brainstorm to expand on your comment regarding the uselessness of textbooks-

    Textbooks are not educationally useful because . . .
    1.) the information they provide is stagnant and potentially outdated
    2.) they encourage teachers to present information in a canned, formulaic, deductive way
    3.) they are not interactive
    4.) they do not assist in the use of differentiated instruction
    5.) they are unwieldy
    6.) they are overpriced
    7.) the information they provide is available on the internet
    8.) using them seems to presuppose that cultural elitists like E.D. Hirsch is correct in that all educated people should share a certain body of knowledge
    9.) for the most part, they do not promote higher-order thinking skills, such as synthesis, evaluation, creativity, or even application
    10.) they make it too easy for instructors to focus the learning process on memorization and regurgitation
    11.) in a banking educational model, they seem to be the primary means for depositing information
    12.) they require a long-form literacy that seems to be more and more obsolete.
    13.) they’re boring
    14.) if they are an anthology, the content is based on which stories / articles carry the least expensive copyright fees
    15.) the content reflects the authors’ / editor’s bias
    16.) the supplementary materials that come with them often rely on decontextualized, drill’n’kill exercises.
    17.) they do not present information and ideas in a multi-media, multi-sensory format
    18.) they do not allow students to feel a sense of ownership over what they are being asked to learn
    19.) 21st century skills are focused on what students can do with knowledge, not what knowledge they have.
    20.) Wikipedia rules
    21.) Google scans in books and we can look at them for free

    Then why are textbooks not relics?
    1.) HP has yet to figure out how to build an indestructible laptop with a battery that will last 48 hours
    2.) How many schools are fully wireless
    3.) Too many of our students do not have easy access to the internet
    4.) Too many teachers are married to their file cabinets.

  29. @TomW - Thanks, that's quite a list, especially so long after the original post.

    To address the last four:

    1. HP hasn't, but ASUS does have some pretty sturdy eee's with 6 hours of battery life - pretty much enough to get through a typical school day.

    2. My school is fully wireless, although we'd need to add some access points for density reasons if every student had one.

    3. I'm lucky enough that pretty much all of my students do have access to the Internet from home as well.

    4. Overall, my school is pretty well off here as well, although certainly not every teacher would be enamored of more laptops and fewer textbooks.

  30. Mr. Fisch:

    I believe that sooner than later, textbooks will be a thing of the past. Being a poor college student, textbooks every semester is a hassle. We have discussed this issue in one of my Teacher Education classes, and we've talked about how the money spent on textbooks each year could easily by a new laptop.

  31. Why does this post make me laugh? It probably shouldn't.