Textbooks have it backwards

I have used dozens of secondary Science textbooks from a variety of publishers, and I have come to the conclusion that, for the 21st century, almost all of them have it backwards. In a world where any fact can be looked up instantly on a computer or, let’s face it, phone (really, how cool is that?), virtually all the textbooks place a huge emphasis on the facts. Definitions, history, diagrams, explanations, and on and on. And then, as an afterthought, they toss in a “learning activity”. So using Bloom’s taxonomy – which is over half a decade old, mind – we see that the bulk of the content of the textbooks focus on the lowest rungs: knowledge and comprehension, while the higher order skills are relegated to an afterthought.

Once upon a time, it may well have been useful for a single source to attempt to explain material in this way. At one time, the textbook was the only resource for a class. But not anymore, and it has left a lingering and harmful legacy. You see, like it or not, teachers more often than not follow a textbook. And by basing a course on a textbook that focuses on wrote knowledge rather than application of that knowledge to higher order thinking skills instills the false sense that the memorizable facts are what the subject is about. And this idea that Science is solely about remembering what others have done before is an annoyingly persistent one.

Science should be about doing. Facts, building blocks and data points can be looked up, but there should be an over-arching emphasis on Science as a process, about application of knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving. And I think it is time the textbook publishers recognize this, and step up to the challenge, before they become completely obsolete.

2 thoughts on “Textbooks have it backwards

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  2. Mark Salata

    I couldn’t agree with you more. That is why when I taught biology, the textbook was one resource to use and not the central one. News articles, online resources, personal interests, and questions – engaging questions drove the learning. I don’t think that the general public is aware of how much of a textbook revolution is coming in the next few years. In fact, the concept of what a textbook is and how pivotal it is in a curriculum is already being changed. And I am not referring to ebooks that are simply digital versions of traditional textbooks. Those are not even taking advantage of the computer power, let alone what we know about learning.


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