Friday, January 30, 2009

What Do Textbook Publishers Have in Common With Credit Card Companies? You Do Not Have to Still Be Alive For Them to Try to Sell to You.

The other day I was in the mailroom of the Ohio State history department and I glanced at the stacks of complimentary history textbooks being sent by textbook publishing companies. Textbook publishers usually send us complimentary copies of their textbooks in the hope that we will decide to use them and assign them to our students. The logic being that it makes sense to send a history teacher a free copy for his own use in the hope that he will make anywhere from thirty to two hundred students buy it. Considering that these textbooks regularly cost more than fifty dollars, this strikes me as a remarkably unfair business arrangement for students.

Amongst this stack of complimentary history textbooks was one addressed to Dr. Joseph Lynch. Unfortunately Dr. Lynch passed away a few weeks ago. He was a well respected medievalist. I did not know him well and never took any classes with him, but I did have one conversation with him when I first arrived at Ohio State. He struck me as a remarkable gentleman. As fine a scholar and human being as Dr. Lynch was, unless he decides to follow in the footsteps of his fellow historian Professor Binns, he will not be teaching this spring.

I really despise history textbooks. Not only are they overpriced but they are usually written under the control of committees which have no interest in history, but only want a platform to preach about tolerance and diversity. Not that I have anything against tolerance and diversity; those are fine things just as long as they are taught in some other place besides for a history class. This is the equivalent of handing the writing of science textbooks to the Kansas school board. I am strongly leaning towards not using a formal textbook this coming spring. Instead, I am thinking of either assigning Norman Davies’ Europe: a History or, since I will be teaching modern European history again, Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. Barzun might be a bit difficult for students to understand and the book certainly requires that one already possess a basic background in European history. As I see it, if you passed high school you should at least possess a basic background in European history. If you do not have such a background you did not really pass high school and have no business being a student on a college campus. Similarly one should have developed certain reading analytical skills. If you are incapable of reading and comprehending Barzun you have no business being a college student.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I do agree with you about the textbook prices being outrageous, I must say I came to college with a fairly vague understanding of European History. I probably learned it once and it probably wasn't in high school and, well, my mind isn't what it used to be, ya know?