Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Renaissance Man (Part One)

As a way of  internalizing the work of Postman and Weingartner, as well as reflecting on my own teaching philosophy, I am challenging myself to address 16 challenges for schools and teacher. I am trying to tackle two a day and for the master list go here.

1. Declare a five year moratorium on the use of all textbooks.

Personally, I learned to hate textbooks when I learned that there was an awful lot of omission in them. Especially my History and Social Studies textbooks. When I finally arrived at college I was introduced, for the first time in my recollection, to the concept of primary sources. Now to be fair, there may have been a teacher or two in high school who mentioned the dramamtic difference between primary sources and textbooks; however, any Gen Xer will assent that high school was mostly a blur and if you didn't conform, you were fighting for survival. Trying to get out of high school was more on my mind than the quality of my school books. Besides, I was usually too busy reading stuff that was of interest to me and cared not a whit about what "they" wanted me to read and write.

Once in college, I eventually discovered Philosophy, History, and English. Not one of those professors used a textbook .NOT ONE. We read primary texts or at least really good translations of them. After one semester of academic probation, I learned to spend two hours in the library for every hour spent in class. That library time found me troweling in the stacks (no internet back then to speak of) and reading what other people wrote about what I was reading. I learned to shelve my opinion and study the more experienced opinions of others,; only later did I learn to con-fuse my world view and ethos in a kind of alchemical process. It also helped to be surrounded by people smarter than I was (even though I may not have appreciated them at the time - s/he knows who they are) and eat a little humble pie. The rest was provided my lecture and discussion.

How I loved discussion. Ultimately, that is what drew me to philosophy and away from psychology. Yes, we had inflated views of ourselves, but I felt my mind absorbing like a sponge. My professors and my peers became my best tools for learning new ideas and exploring new frontiers of academia. Those conversations only gave me more things to think about and more paths to research. There was never a textbook in sight.

So why not do the same in primary and secondary schools? Why do we need textbooks in the age of wireless internet? Originally, textbooks were used to help transition students who learned Latin to become literate in their own language (John Wakefield, 1998) and help reinforce character development. Most of our students today are functionally literate on the one hand and extremely technologically savvy. (this very evening I watched a three year old pick up a remote control and start using its basic functions). With the advent of electronic readers and cheap memory, students can easily carry small libraries of primary sources and pdf files that can be used in any inquiry based lesson (more on that later). Give a teacher adequate planning and prep time they can create bookmarks and annotations that the students can carry in the same unit as their portable library.

    1 comment:

    1. I agree. While textbooks can often provide a centralized location for finding information, so can wikipedia. I know, *cringe* But Wikipedia, while a terrible source in and of itself, is a great place to find actual primary and secondary sources when people bother to cite them.

      However, the act of converting all of these primary sources into a digital format is a massive task. It would be a great way of creating jobs for graphic designers though, so I'm absolutely on board.