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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

Why Aren't Textbooks Page Turners?

The Brookings Institute has said that the materials we give children to read are as important as the teacher. That may be overstating things, but even in the worse inner-city environments, some children, given good books will learn. We don't give them enthralling textbooks. Then we wonder why they don't want to read.
How can we solve the problem? Eliminate adoptions where everyone in a city reads the same book. Those adoptions are windfalls for a few publishers who, even if intentions are good, won't try anything innovative when the stakes are huge.
Why can't teachers pick their own books from an approved list? Why does every fifth grader have to read the same books as all the other 10-year-olds in his town? I know the arguments: children change schools, supervisors need uniformity, testing would be difficult, etc--but none of them fly. None of them help create dynamic classrooms that energize learners. They do make for enormously lucrative winner-take-all adoptions in which a few textbook publishers wax rich; they, in turn, provide junkets and goodies for some educators (many of whom are seduced without really understanding what happening. The idea that readable books can make a difference is not in the equation.
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