Most Textbooks Should Just Stay On the Shelf

Jay Matthews:

Most people think textbooks are important. Schools that don’t have all of theirs might find themselves accused of dereliction of duty. The Washington Post, for instance, was aghast last year that several thousand D.C. schoolbooks hadn’t yet left the warehouse when classes began.
My colleague Michael Alison Chandler underlined this in her story two weeks ago about an effort by some Virginia teachers to break the $8 billion-a-year textbook industry’s tight grip on science instruction, which often stops abruptly about the time Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity in 1905.
The fact that such obsolescence is tolerated shows how much faith we put in textbooks. So does our acceptance of the difficulty most students have reading through a standard textbook without falling asleep. Reid Saaris, founder of the D.C.-based Equal Opportunity Schools Organization, remembers teaching 12th-grade history in Beaufort, S.C., with a particularly tedious required text. The few seniors who chose his class usually did so for inappropriate reasons. One year, five boys showed up, gave Saaris disappointed looks and said they had enrolled only “because of the hot lady who was supposed to be teaching the class.”