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Math Textbooks a Textbook Example of Bad Textbooks 446

Posted by samzenpus
from the bottom-of-the-barrel dept.
theodp writes "Over at Salon, Annie Keeghan does an Upton Sinclair number on the math textbook industry. In recent years, Keeghan explains, math has become the subject du jour due to government initiatives and efforts to raise the rankings of lagging U.S. students. But with state and local budgets constrained, math textbook publishers competing for fewer available dollars are rushing their products to market before their competitors, resulting in product that in many instances is inherently, tragically flawed. Keeghan writes: 'There may be a reason you can't figure out some of those math problems in your son or daughter's math text and it might have nothing at all to do with you. That math homework you're trying to help your child muddle through might include problems with no possible solution. It could be that key information or steps are missing, that the problem involves a concept your child hasn't yet been introduced to, or that the math problem is structurally unsound for a host of other reasons.' The comments on Keeghan's article are also an eye-opener — here's a sample: 'Sales and marketing budgets are astronomical because the expenses pay off more than investments in product. Sadly, most teachers are not curriculum experts and are swayed by the surface pitches. Teachers make the decisions, but are not the users (students) nor are they spending their own money. As a result, products that make their lives easier and that come with free meals and gifts are the most successful.' So, can open source or competitions build better math textbooks?"
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Math Textbooks a Textbook Example of Bad Textbooks

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  • by Vanders (110092) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:08AM (#39238681) Homepage

    It could be that key information or steps are missing

    Entire exams [bbc.co.uk] have been ruined by incorrect questions. Apparently, reading and writing is not a hard requirement for being a mathematician.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by aurispector (530273)

      After seeing websites like "khan academy" it may be that textbooks are obsolete. Why keep reinventing the wheel if there are excellent individual lessons available for free online? Clearly the textbook market is turning into a scam because of the disconnect between buyers and sellers.

      Perhaps entities accrediting teaching institutions should begin accrediting textbooks - formalizing the process of textbook selection instead of pushing this crucial decision to the lowest levels.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:32AM (#39238823)

        Lectures are extremely inefficient. Just use the same textbooks as 30+ years ago. Pre-university mathematics hasn't changed that much.

        The correct solution would be, of course, to adopt a more left-wing education model. Soviet mathematics education was excellent, because (i) the USSR was interested in academic success as a vehicle to national technological advancement; (ii) it was not tainted by privatised publishers and exam providers desiring quantity over quality. China is following a not entirely dissimilar model, and they're doing kinda OK. Even France, keeping firm the foundations of its Polytechnique model, laughs in the face of America with the quality of its mathematics curriculum.

        Capitalism simply does not deliver good education. There is no profit in a swathe of well-educated people, only the minimum needed to keep remaining consumers in line.

        • Exactly, old textbooks do fine for lower/middle school ... and in college professors should for the most part write their teaching material and photocopy it.

          When I was in college teacher written materials (dictates) were being phased out in favour of hard cover books ... and without exception the courses became worse for it!

          • by MadShark (50912) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:02AM (#39239029)

            Uggg. I had several teachers in college that wrote their own "textbooks" for their classes(electrical engineering). They were extraordinarily smart individuals, but their writing sucked. They were desperately in need of a technical writer and an editor. The ones that didn't completely suck were not any better than the normal books I had for my other classes.

            • by Joce640k (829181) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:09AM (#39239067) Homepage

              This.

              And this [textbookleague.org]

            • I had a professor write an economics text book. He barely lectured and used the exact same words as in the book. He couldn't describe anything differently than the book. If you didn't understand the book, he would just say "it's right there in print. You didn't read the book" He failed to accept his book had problems or that not everyone learns the same way.

              it was a terrible class and I was happy to get through it. The entire class was based on a formula. he only defined the variables on the first day of class. Everything was explained by this formula. The trick to the exams was to put in several variations of the formula into a graphing calculator and just run through them. I didn't learn much.

        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:51AM (#39238951) Journal

          Just use the same textbooks as 30+ years ago. Pre-university mathematics hasn't changed that much.

          This is really where the open source model should be shining. If you're buying books to 100,000 students, then really you should be buying the copyright, not paying through the nose for each copy. As an author, I'd happily take a $30K up-front payment to write a textbook and hand over the complete writes to the country's education system. Then can then do a big print run initially, and a smaller run each year to replace ones that wear out. If they need to make corrections, they can print errata pages for the existing copies and just fix them in the new edition so when the old ones wear out they're replaced with ones with the fixes. And, of course, since they own the copyright they can give students PDF versions to keep.

        • by medcalf (68293) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:21AM (#39239139) Homepage
          Capitalism has nothing to do with public education in the US. It's a social-bureaucratic system with curriculum preferences driven by California and Texas.
          • by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:45AM (#39239281)

            The textbook providers are capitalist enterprises. The article correctly points out that their incentives are to do whatever it takes to sell books, not to provide the best possible books.

            The fact that this even affects MATH texts indicates how pervasive and corrupting the process is. Unlike history and science, there is no need for the content to change from decade to decade. We could have optimized math texts long ago.

            • by bigdavex (155746)

              The textbook providers are capitalist enterprises. The article correctly points out that their incentives are to do whatever it takes to sell books, not to provide the best possible books..

              If "whatever it takes to sell books" isn't making the best possible books, there's something wrong with the buyers, not just the sellers.

          • by Billly Gates (198444) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @12:43PM (#39240305) Journal

            Mod up!

            I substitute taught a few years ago and objectives and curriculum just for a single day is mindboggling. A 1st grade classroom as an example needs to go through 4 objectives per subject 4 times a day. That is 16 lessons in just 6.5 hours! The books need to be in synch with this and explains why you can't use a book from 30 years ago even if the mathmatics are the same.

            No Child Left Behind puts huge requirements. 30 years ago 1st graders were being taught to count to 50, the ABCS and how to put together simple wordss and after that children spent 2 hours a day painting, playing, and cutting shapes out of construction paper.

            Today they are being taught multiplication, juggling (yes it is in some state standards), health, vowel rules with moderate words, etc. It is a pain in the butt and hard on the kids and teachers, but we keep whinning on how American kids are behind the rest of the world so No Child Left Behind is enforcing this. Now just imagine if a state changes the standards again?? Pfft time to through out those 2 million dollars worth of text books and start again!

        • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:25AM (#39239169)

          Lectures are extremely inefficient.

          Just a quote (I'm in a quoting mood today):

          People have now-a-days got a strange opinion that everything should be taught by lectures. Now, I cannot see that lectures can do so much as reading the books from which the lectures are taken. I know nothing that can be best taught by lectures, except where experiments are to be shewn. You may teach chemistry by lectures:-- You might teach the making of shoes by lectures!

          (Dr. Samuel Johnson writing to his friend Boswell)

          • Lectures certainly have deficiencies, but a live lecture in front of an audience has one crucial advantage: feedback. Questions, or even informal groans or "huh?" from the audience lead to clarification or correction. The inflexibility of a difficult text can make learning nearly impossible.
            • Lectures certainly have deficiencies, but a live lecture in front of an audience has one crucial advantage: feedback. Questions, or even informal groans or "huh?" from the audience lead to clarification or correction. The inflexibility of a difficult text can make learning nearly impossible.

              Don't underestimate the value of Being There. I'm not a fan of the lecture style, but it certainly helps some people tremendously - most especially auditory learners.

          • by LihTox (754597) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @01:14PM (#39240547)

            To be able to read a mathematics textbook successfully, you have to be able to pace yourself: to read one section at a time, slowly, work through the exercises, and not assume that you understand the material simply because it makes sense. It's a different skill from reading a novel, and many people don't have that skill. A lecture intentionally slows the book's material down to the appropriate pace for students who haven't learned how to read textbooks properly. It is inefficient by *design*.

        • by fche (36607) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:39AM (#39239251)

          "Capitalism simply does not deliver good education."

          Where exactly is the capitalism in the current education system? Money flows are so disconnected from the ultimate consumers (students), that there exist hardly any market signals.

        • by Chelloveck (14643) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:44AM (#39239277) Homepage

          Lectures are extremely inefficient. Just use the same textbooks as 30+ years ago. Pre-university mathematics hasn't changed that much.

          Actually, it has. A couple years ago my high-school aged son was stuck on a math problem: Plot a linear approximation through a set of points. I didn't remember the exact technique so I looked it up in his textbook. "Step 1: Enter the points into a graphing calculator. Step 2: Press the 'linear regression' button."

          For better or worse, computers and powerful calculators are part of the curriculum. My younger son's Algebra 1 book has frequent "Spreadsheet Activity" and "Graphing Calculator Activity" sidebars.

          Insert generic "In my day..." rant here. You could borrow the one used by my parents when my generation got to use 4-function calculators, or the one used by their parents when they got to use slide rules.

          • Just use the same textbooks as 30+ years ago. Pre-university mathematics hasn't changed that much.

            Actually, it has.

            No, actually it hasn't. I speak as someone who took high school math near the beginning of the age of the graphing calculator, and as someone who has taught high school math in the years since.

            Yes, you can teach algebra in different ways with graphing calculators, and there are many innovative things that I've done with them in the classroom to make things easier to visualize. However, for perhaps 97% of the exercises, students could have done these things pretty easily without graphing calculators 30 (

        • I have to take exception to this snippet:

          Lectures are extremely inefficient. Just use the same textbooks as 30+ years ago. Pre-university mathematics hasn't changed that much

          Lectures are an efficient ways of learning something. Especially Mathematics. Most of the time (immersing yourself in some subject matter that exemplifies some part of Mathematics can be much more effective, but it takes more time and effort too). Besides, there is good reason why textbooks haven't changed: the subject matter has larg

      • by arpad1 (458649) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:49AM (#39238931)

        The reason to keep reinventing the wheel is because reinventing the wheel costs lots of money.

        The monopolistic nature of the public education system means that customer demands - the parents - can be ignored. So, we've got a textbook industry that can ignore cost and can ignore efficacy, since their customer is the school district, but can't ignore political fads.

        If you want textbooks to get relentlessly better and relentlessly cheaper then the people who are urgently concerned about the safety and effective education of the kids - parents - have to assume direct control over education.

        That's in the process of happening with the spread of charter schools, vouchers, parental trigger and tax credits but we're only just now getting to the point that those changes are starting to impact education. But another two to three years should see the monopolistic complacency of the public education system shattered as the nature of public education, and the costs of that nature, are more widely understood as they stand in contrast to the alternatives.

      • by exploder (196936)

        Perhaps entities accrediting teaching institutions should begin accrediting textbooks - formalizing the process of textbook selection instead of pushing this crucial decision to the lowest levels.

        Interesting to hear this sentiment expressed on Slashdot. In the context of IT, I can't recall seeing anyone claim here that "crucial decisions" (e.g. about hardware, OS, language, development framework, etc.) shouldn't be made at 'the lowest levels". Of course, the "lowest levels" are aren't usually described quite that way, and it's always emphasized (or taken completely for granted) that such decisions rightly belong to the ones actually implementing them. Anyone further up the chain is out of touch a

    • by Chrisq (894406) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:36AM (#39238847)

      It could be that key information or steps are missing

      Entire exams [bbc.co.uk] have been ruined by incorrect questions. Apparently, reading and writing is not a hard requirement for being a mathematician.

      It has alaways been like that. I can remember back in the 70s we were given a previous year's GCE A-level paper for homework. There was one question that we all decided was impossible. The teacher agreed, but we had one genius in the class (who later got a full scholarship to Cambridge) who said "Sir there is a solution in terms of sets using number theory" and then wrote some stuff up that none of us understood.

  • History too (Score:5, Interesting)

    by C0R1D4N (970153) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:13AM (#39238717)
    A great book, "Lies My Teacher Told Me" details the history textbook situation which is pretty bad too.
    • Re:History too (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Yetihehe (971185) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:25AM (#39238771)

      It's not obligatory reference, but I think it sums it up very nicely: http://xkcd.com/803/ [xkcd.com]. In one episode of myth busters they were making concrete airplanes. Adam made the strangest wing I've ever seen, but I think it could be inspired by such example like in this xkcd strip. And it didn't fly almost at all.

      • It's not obligatory reference, but I think it sums it up very nicely: http://xkcd.com/803/ [xkcd.com]. In one episode of myth busters they were making concrete airplanes. Adam made the strangest wing I've ever seen, but I think it could be inspired by such example like in this xkcd strip. And it didn't fly almost at all.

        Oddly enough, for appropriate large vales of the definition of concrete, a concrete airplane is not out of the question (Love MythBusters, missed that episode alas so i can't comment on their conclusion); especially if you include one of my professors comments tab a brick can fly if it has a big enough engine. Seriously, the ASCE Student Chapters have held concrete canoe races of rears; with some pretty impressive canoes that were very strong and lightweight; even while meeting the classic concrete "paste a

        • by wilgibson (933961)
          The episode is available on Netflix should you wish to watch it. Season 4, Episode 24 according to Google.
      • Re:History too (Score:4, Informative)

        by ChrisMaple (607946) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @12:16PM (#39239987)
        The correct answer is "some airplanes can fly upside down by using a high angle of attack, which overcomes the Bernoulli effect." Note also that even rightside up, most airplanes use some angle of attack.
        • by jbengt (874751)
          It does not overcome the Bernoulli effect, it overcomes the shape of the airfoil to create a Bernoulli effect in the upward direction even though the wing is upside down.
  • T'was ever thus (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SpinningAround (449335) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:13AM (#39238719)

    'Sales and marketing budgets are astronomical because the expenses pay off more than investments in product.'

    Ah, so textbooks are the same as 'enterprise' software then...

  • by msobkow (48369) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:15AM (#39238729) Homepage Journal

    This issue is found with all textbooks, and has always been a problem. Even in the 70s and 80s, pretty much every textbook I used in high school and university had mistakes, omissions, and unsolvable chapter-problems.

    The difficulty with learning maths and sciences stems from the fact that they tend to deal with abstract concepts, procedures, and algorithms for performing mathematical calculations. In the age of calculators and instant-gratification web searches, not only aren't students willing to put in the time to learn "how" to do something, they aren't even interested in learning "why" they should do something.

    Instead, they point to their computers and the web as being able to do the work for them, and question the sanity of learning "the old way" of doing things. If the only purpose of an education was to prepare people for the workforce, I'd agree with them -- but the point of an education is to learn how to learn, how to interpret, and how to understand material. An education isn't about the facts taught, but about the learning process that prepares you for a lifetime of learning as you deal with new technologies, products, and ideas during your time on this planet.

    • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:10AM (#39239075)

      The solution is simple: use PDFs of public domain textbooks. If you like, order a cheap bound copy of the PDF to be made.

      Basic math hasn't changed much in a century, and there are numerous old textbooks out there that are generally proofread better than modern textbooks. I have found the problems are often better structured and designed as well.

      Sure, there are minor changes in terminology, which any good teacher can address. But we should do this even just to save the backs of young kids -- those old textbooks are small, short, and therefore light to carry, rather than a 700-page glossy book that weighs 10 pounds (why the heck do we need this for math textbooks?).

      When I was in junior high and high school, I picked up a lot of such old textbooks at used book sales for nothing. I think I learned more from them than I did from my actual math classes...

      • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @02:01PM (#39240901) Homepage

        The solution is simple: use PDFs of public domain textbooks. If you like, order a cheap bound copy of the PDF to be made.

        Basic math hasn't changed much in a century, and there are numerous old textbooks out there that are generally proofread better than modern textbooks. I have found the problems are often better structured and designed as well.

        This is a perfectly reasonable idea, but it would require massive legislative change to implement it in K-12 education, and that legislative change isn't going to happen because of lobbying by textbook publishers.

        As a random example, the California Education Code contains the following:

        When adopting instructional materials for use in the schools, governing boards shall include only instructional materials which, in their determination, accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of our society, including: (a) The contributions of both men and women in all types of roles, including professional, vocational, and executive roles. (b) The role and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, European Americans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other ethnic and cultural groups to the total development of California and the United States.

        It doesn't specifically say that pictures of kids in a math textbook have to include pictures of kids in wheelchairs, but it's a specific example of the extremely tight regulatory environment for textbooks. Another good example is that state law allows a school to pay $200 for a textbook, but does not allow it to spend $10 at Kinko's to print out a paper copy of a free digital textbook. When Governor Schwarzenegger started his Free Digital Textbook Initiative [bbc.co.uk], one of the big obstacles was the state bureaucracy involved in textbook selection. They tried to streamline the process, but basically the initiative seems to have been a total failure.

        I'm the author of some free online physics textbooks. They're written for the college level, but I have quite a few adoptions from high schools as well. Virtually all of those are from private schools, especially Catholic schools.

        It's certainly true that algebra and calculus don't change very much over time. However, the public education system in my state, including both K-12 and the state college and university systems, has general rules that forbid us from using old textbooks. That makes a lot of sense, as a matter of fact, for physics, history, etc. There is no exception written into these requirements for math. In any case, if you look at the catalog in my sig, you'll see that there is not any shortage of high-quality free textbooks for math that are recent. There's no real need to use old public-domain math books rather than modern, free ones.

    • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @11:28AM (#39239605)

      As a schoolchild, I went through the French system, and people complained that the textbooks changed too often. Which was a legitimate concern, but since the programme and standard were set system-wide, each iteration was, I thought, OK. Basically, it laid out the structure of the year, and gave supplementary material. Oh, and the maths books also had some exercise sets.

      But that was an exception. And the proportion of exercises was small.

      Likewise at university, I got textbooks, which were in the vast majority European in origin. And they were thin, densely packed with equations (or not so thin in the case of fluid mechanics and thermodynamics). And they contained almost no examples or exercises. They were designed as reference books.

      But I also got a couple American textbook. Which were not badly written or wrong. But which were pieces of shit. Because the were huge, and contained stupid amounts of examples and exercises, instead of well-structured matter. On my shelf, I still have -- and consult -- the European ones, the American textbooks: dunno where I put them.

      The author of TFA complains that the books are terribly written an badly copyedited. Sure, they might be. But even if they weren't, they would still be crap. This is because on this continent, people seem not to have understood the most important aspect of knowledge: its structure. The goal should never be that the student can do lots of exercises quickly. It should be that they understand the structure and logic of the subject -- and that, they can do the exercises, sure, but also understand how this subject relates to all the others. And each subject well understood helps in all the others.

      And how knowledge, in general, forms a great overarching structure. Now of course, if you did that, you would never get engineer-creationists: because they would deeply understand that you cannot, in fact, compartmentalise knowledge.

      This is not a "American education is crap" post. it is rather a "American education would in fact be very good" if you guys simply made the effort of respecting theory and structure more.

      • Yeah, this is true. I recently have been reading some Russian instructional books (translated into English), and they remind me of some of the good books we had in America, 50 or 70 years ago.

        A lot of the Amazon reviews complain that the writing style is too terse, and not entertaining, and this is true, but they get the most important thing 100% right: they teach the necessary material. You need to teach the material if you want kids to learn. If you can make it entertaining and fun on top of that, even
        • Those Russian textbooks? They are the best. They really are. They were written by people mesmerised by the intrinsic beauty of the theory and the maths. A teacher who can take these books and have the students see the beauty in them is a great teacher. Fun should come from all those amazing things that make sense and can be understood through the stuff in the book.

          The idea that kids like playing and so teaching should be like play is backwards. Kids love learning. They are knowledge sponges. As long as you

        • they remind me of some of the good books we had in America, 50 or 70 years ago.

          This is the German influence. Just prior to WWII, nearly all great German (and east European) mathematicians fled the Nazis, and ended up quite often in the US. At the time, the US was a third rate nation in terms of mathematics, but by the time of the 60s, the new generation that was taught by those great mathematicians was ready to do amazing things.

    • An education isn't about the facts taught, but about the learning process that prepares you for a lifetime of learning as you deal with new technologies, products, and ideas during your time on this planet.

      Strongly disagree here. This is the drivel (IMO, sorry) that has become popular in amongst educators and education speakers in the past decade or so. Yes 'learning process' is important, but the 'facts' we ask primary and secondary students to apply this to are not arbitrary.

      We have learned over a time as a species (or culture or nation perhaps) that this particular set of facts is important. The reading, writing, mathematics, history, and more, and their associated 'facts', are all absolutely worthy, i

    • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @12:36PM (#39240211)

      I'm fed up with the meme that education is all about learning how to learn (how to interpret, how to understand.) If that's all that 12 or 16 years of schooling provided, we'd have a crowd of illiterate young adults all ready to learn SOMETHING, without the ability to do so because they couldn't read or do math. Such young adults would be useless, because they had no practical knowledge.

      Education is primarily about learning facts: what things are, how they work, how they're connected, how and why they were developed, how to solve problems, what honor consists of, and so forth and so on. "Learning how to learn" and its relatives, though important, is mostly an implicit part of education and requires some, but not a lot, of explicit effort to teach.

      • by msobkow (48369)

        Schools and standardized tests are about facts.

        Show me one "fact" I was taught in elementary, high school, or university which is useful to my life today. The history has been rewritten to emphasize Canadian contributions and the involvement of the First Nations. The very techniques used to teach math have changed.

        I learned to read long before I started school, so you can't credit the schools with teaching me that.

        Only a handful of the core, essential algorithms I was taught in University and the t

  • by adamchou (993073) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:15AM (#39238731)
    Its not like Math changes every year. The text book industry and publishers are just ripping students off every year. If they would just publish one edition of their text books, we wouldn't have this problem.
    • by Gabrill (556503) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:32AM (#39238817)

      +1.

      There is absolutely no need for the textbooks to be revisioned as often as they are. Each year students are forced to purchase a new presentation of the same subject and material that has been available and defined for decades. I mean really, is there any NEW Calculus 101 research being done within the last 3 decades? Publishers ensure a new purchase every year by revisioning their books with no value updates. I think it amounts to industry abuse.

      The problem is made worse by the rapid evolution of supporting software, hardware, and the operating systems they run on. I can't wait until our computer tools mature enough to be as least as stable, reliable, and long-lived to last through a four-year degree course without putting the user at a disadvantage near the end of the degree.

      • by wrook (134116)

        Fair enough, but educational techniques *have* been changing (albeit not at the rate of new textbooks). I teach English to Japanese students and while the English language has barely changed at all (at least the basics that I'm teaching), the techniques for teaching language are nothing like they were 30 years ago. In fact, I'm frustrated that textbook writers obviously haven't reviewed the research in learning and language acquisition recently (or more likely ever). I *want* new textbooks that at least

        • by roothog (635998) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:26AM (#39239171)

          Fair enough, but educational techniques *have* been changing

          Well, if you look at the trend in math, it's pretty clear that the changes have just made math education worse. Maybe what we need to do rather than create new texts and new techniques that don't work is resurrect older techniques and older textbooks that actually seemed to educate.

        • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:32AM (#39239209)

          While pedagogical techniques have changed over the years, basic math hasn't. And old textbooks written, say, more than about 50 years ago, didn't have much "filler" in terms of pedagogical methodology.

          You just have a very brief explanation of definitions and concepts, followed by a set of problems. The pedagogical method is left to the teacher to fill in, as it should be. No necessity for glossy photos of random non-math things or muticultural scenes in a math textbook, as we fill pages and pages with today.

          Perhaps languages are different in this regard, although I have to admit I personally learned more about foreign languages than from any other book after I picked up a comparative grammar of six languages designed for language instruction that was published in the 1860s. The advances is elementary language instruction pedagogy, as far as I can tell, have mostly to do with replacing competent teachers who can speak fluently with lots of recordings that have to be cued to the textbook... which seems like the primary driving force for new editions of language books... but I'm no expert. (I am, however, a certified secondary math and science teacher.)

    • You mean that version 8 of my calculus book didnt fundamentally alter the foundations of calculus?

      Math textbooks are probably one of the few subjects, for all students before Jr year engineering/physics/etc, that would probably benefit from stability and fewer revisions.

      I cant see how for HS the same texts from 1990 wouldnt be sufficient.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Exactly. The problem is not that there aren't good textbooks, but the teachers who only buy the newest shiniest crap. But when a teacher is incompetent then the book is the least of the problems.

    • Its not like Math changes every year. The text book industry and publishers are just ripping students off every year. If they would just publish one edition of their text books, we wouldn't have this problem.

      True, but there is no money in that. More to the point, you could use out of copyright texts for much of the basic high school curricula with some minor updates and have a decent textbook. That's why marketing and sales budgets are so high - you need to create a perception of need and thus demand to feed the system.

      I have helped high school kids with math and physics, and usually wind up going back to basic principals so they understand what they are doing and then can solve problems. Even then, with an en

    • The reason they publish so many editions is to combat used textbook sales, especially in freshman and sophomore level undergrad programs. Professors sometimes write their own books as well, which are required when you take their course which is required for various degrees. A linear algebra course I once took was written by the department head if memory serves me correctly. The first edition had algebra misspelled as "algegra" on the binding. It understandably got a second edition. Too bad the book itself w
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:29AM (#39238799)

    Feynman wrote about the problems with textbooks and textbook selection [textbookleague.org] in the 60s. Sadly, I don't think much has changed. It might have gotten worse. I do hope that open source textbooks and book readers might help, eventually, if we can prevent the systems from perpetuating textbooks as revenue generation first and teaching aids second.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)

      And the sad thing is that Feynman's lectures have mostly been locked out of the classrooms despite being excellent introductory physics material. There are few good textbooks out there and it really is a shame that we're not even using some of the best.

      Having Feynman's lectures during my introductory courses would have been a boon. Instead we got crappy state-sponsored books that barely taught anything.

  • Math vs. History (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sociocapitalist (2471722) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:30AM (#39238803)

    Math perhaps but anything with any political aspect will be fought over, i.e. Texas re-writing history textbooks in an effort to lesson the constitutional barriers of separation of church and state.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/17/AR2010031700560.html [washingtonpost.com]
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html [nytimes.com]

  • 1. Life of Fred 2. Singapore 3. If you're going to go the traditional route, at least get people who know the subject and teach them to teach, instead of putting people who don't know the subject in front of the kids. Then the textbooks would matter less anyway.
    • 1. Life of Fred 2. Singapore 3. If you're going to go the traditional route, at least get people who know the subject and teach them to teach, instead of putting people who don't know the subject in front of the kids. Then the textbooks would matter less anyway.

      Good idea, but you'd actually have to pay them enough to want to take and keep the job. I've worked with school districts and many teachers, and when a starting teacher right out of school with a math / science degree can make 2x elsewhere - you do the math.

      Or, as one teacher I know puts it - "You can tell the teachers whose spouse have real jobs by the cars they drive." Sad, but true.

  • If you can't even figure out that you can't figure out a problem - because there is something wrong with the problem - then you didn't understand what math is all about. Hint: It's not about rote memorization of solution recipes.
  • by kentsta (1624755) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:37AM (#39238855)
    ....as a former math teacher, I can assure you that teachers rarely get to make the purchasing decisions regarding textbooks. Teachers, even most rookies, can tell when a textbook is bad, but have to use what they are given for the most part. They are free to supplement the curriculum with their own created content, but of course they are expected to mostly teach the state standards with the given textbooks.
    • by GIL_Dude (850471) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:45AM (#39238905) Homepage
      I came here to say exactly that. I've never seen where a teacher in elementary or secondary schools has been able to select a book. The school itself doesn't generally get to select them either. The books are selected by the school board or their designees (often, in practice, by a group of folks in the school district office). From what I've read here (http://news.slashdot.org/story/10/02/12/182223/texas-textbooks-battle-is-actually-an-american-war) and on other sites, the books selected by the Texas board of education become a de facto standard for many places. I doubt there are many places - at least in the US - where an individual teacher has much voice at all in selecting a textbook for primary education.
  • by portforward (313061) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:42AM (#39238883)

    My son's elementary school uses "Math Investigations" which is part of that "new math". You know, the type that believes that it isn't necessary to learn multiplication tables, or that your really only need to learn a few fractions: 1/2 1/3 1/4 and that is it. Oh yeah, and you shouldn't "stack" numbers while adding. He doesn't have a text book. He only brings home photocopied worksheets.

    I complained to the teacher. They referred me to the principal who referred me to the district's elementary math education supervisor. Long story short, when schools say they want parents involved, they are lying. That is the last thing that they want. They want you to chaperone field trips. They want you to help fund raise. But when you want to actually input on the fundamentals of education, they shut you out. Even though you might have been a physics major and tutor, and brought peer reviewed research sponsored by the Department of Education pointing out that their particular math curricula has students score lower on standardized tests they imply that you don't know what you are talking about.

    • That is because public education is designed from its very core to indoctrinate students to not accept their parents values. All aspects of public education (and the education discipline in general) grow from this basic assumption: that the purpose of education is to eradicate the values of the parents.
  • by theodp (442580) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:45AM (#39238901)

    Investors valued Yelp restaurant and other reviews at $1.47B [wsj.com]. How much is being spent on textbook reviews?

  • by Nimey (114278) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:50AM (#39238943) Homepage Journal

    At one point he was invited to sit on the committee that chose which textbooks to use for the California school system. He was unhappy with every single book he reviewed and made copious notes that he brought to the committee meeting.

    It turned out that basically nobody else on the committee bothered doing more than skimming through the books, and in one case a book that hadn't even been written yet got a good score, something like 7 out of ten -- it was part of a 3-book series and it got slightly better scores than the two that were actually available to review!

    PS: It's not "most teachers". Most teachers don't get any input into which books their district (hell, their state[1]) uses. That was a cheap dig, and politically motivated; OP is contemptible.

    [1] Lots of states will just use whatever California uses, or whatever Texas uses.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:52AM (#39238957)
    As someone whose published works have benefited from the collaboration with an outstanding editor, I feel for all the editors and writers out their that care about their craft. A writer creates a raw product, a good editor turns it into a work of art. When my editor was let go due to "financial constraints" I realized that the publication has begun the death spiral; and made sure my editor and I stayed in touch so I we could work together at some point in the future.
  • Years back, I remember working through some of those SAT prep books for the math section. Seemed like every one of them had at least one error in the solutions, with Barron's seeming the best and stuff like Kaplan's having many mistakes. Well, obviously I was bored, so when my answer didn't agree with theirs, I wrote proofs proving their answer was wrong.

  • by theodp (442580) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:54AM (#39238971)

    From a commenter: "The Internet is going to change textbooks forever. When retired Ph.D.'s in physics and mathematics and chemistry and biology can write a book and publish it online - without help from today's publishers - students win, elementary schools win, middle schools win, high schools win, colleges win."

  • by rcoxdav (648172) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:55AM (#39238977)
    I think part of the problem also is the ridiculous requirements put into textbooks by some of the states. Some locales have required multiculturalism parts of classes, even something like elementary school math, which should be pretty much a fact based class.

    I live in Illinois, and I know my children's books are not up to the level of what I had 30 years ago. The books seem scatter brained with forced examples of what the states want put into the books. Also, the forced lack of focus on the fundamentals has gone a long way towards lowering the ability of students from the US to compete in a global academic environment, especially in the sciences and computer fields. Another item is what is wrong with timed drills, and letting students know that the world is not equal and that some people are better and faster in math than others. Welcome to the real world! I am not saying advertise who is the best, but don't stop doing timed tests and drills because some helicopter parent is complaining that their snowflake did not get the highest possible score. A friend of mine is a former principal at an elementary school, and he said that the biggest number of complaints he had were from parents who thought that it was traumatic for their children to not be able to complete timed math fundamentals tests.

    Yes, the textbook manufacturers are sleazy and always trying to sell the new latest greatest edition, but don't forget some of the ever changing junk they have to put in to make the politicians happy in the big states (thank-you California and Texas). Let the experts decide what needs to be in an effective textbook, not the politicians.
    • if your child's math teacher is not doing drills to drive basic facts into your son or daughter's head, then why not download some worksheets at home?

      My son was placed in special ed because of a reading problem that was actually due to an eye tracking problem that went undiagnosed for a few years. While there, I was assured he was being taught the normal curriculum for all subjects since he is not cognitively impaired....guess what....by the time he was in 4rth grade and his eyes were fixed, he now had a ma

  • Anthro too... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nblender (741424) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:57AM (#39238997)

    My wife used to teach an Intro to Anthropology course (among others) and each year was a new textbook, which she would get a week before class started in Sept. Towards the end of her teaching career, the textbooks were less complete than the previous year and each book came with links to a publisher's website of 'supplemental material' which was the stuff that was missing plus some videos and flash demos... The links were embedded throughout the book. At the end of that school year, the website 'expired' making that textbook useless to be replaced by the current years' textbook and corresponding website. Pure evil.

    In addition, there were lots of errors in the chapters causing my wife to have to spend a great deal of time fact checking each lesson plan against the book.. Eventually, she stopped simply telling the students about the errors and issued a challenge for students to identify the errors in the book, and then next class they would discuss the chapter focusing on the errors... It turned into a great teaching tool while simultaneously demonstrating to students not to believe everything they read.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @09:59AM (#39239009)
    While they could work, I have some doubts:

    1. A key part of any good text is the flow - how do chapters interrelate and build on each other, i.e. what is the story line? That needs an editor in charge that makes and enforces decisions; something noticeably absent from most OS products.

    2. The people with the most knowledge are often the worst to have explain a concept - things that are initiative and simple may be obscure and hard to understand for a student. Writing a good text book means actually explaining stuff in enough detail for the reader to understand, and putting in stuff you think everyone would know when in fact they don't.

    Even with simple concepts there are often multiple ways to obtain the same solution - do you put them all in; if not how do you decide which ones to include?

    At least with math, if you avoid any historical context you can avoid some of the challenges that history text books would have, for example, with political and social views and arguments thereover.

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:38AM (#39239239)
    I had a organic chemistry text book that had a similar problems. I remember one question where it asked a question that you had to know about aromaticity. That would have been ok except aromaticity wouldn't be introduced for another 2 chapters. (The only reason I knew about it was I had read ahead a few chapters before looking at that problem in the text.) Come to think of it they also introduced resonance structures as the very first concept then proceeded to completely ignore the concept. (It only came up at the beginning of my orgo II class. Why they didn't move introducing the concept to right before it was going to be used instead of where they did and everybody forgot about it I'll never know.)
    • by exploder (196936)

      It's often good pedagogy to introduce a problem before you introduce the technique of its solution. If you want to understand something, there's really no substitute, no substitute at all, for banging your head against tough problems, inventing and testing your own solutions. Even if you don't come up with one that works, you'll be in a much better position to appreciate the solution when it's shown to you.

  • in real life (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @10:55AM (#39239339)

    Inaccurate, incomplete, contradictory and poorly stated data and questions are par for the course.

    Maybe it's a good thing for students to be exposed to some poorly worded and insoluble problems in their education.

  • by ugen (93902) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @11:12AM (#39239457)

    No, this ain't no "in soviet Russia" joke, though it could be I guess.

    The best math textbooks I saw were the old soviet math school textbooks. They had one (1) textbook for a given grade for the entire country. It was the same book, with minimal adaptations and changes year after year. These books covered science without any "added sugar" - and they worked. Of course, none of that exists anymore - but that's a whole another story.

    In any case, this is one field where open source and competition will likely result in more of what we already have. Central planning fails at delivering consumer goods and services, but it worked quite well delivering scientific education.

  • Nannies one and all (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @11:59AM (#39239851) Homepage

    First off, anyone making comments on college or higher level math in this thread did not RTFA - its about kiddies, not college kids. K-8.

    So why are we even talking about such stupidity? Has the "math" taught to K-8 today suddenly changed from.. 10 years ago? 30? 100? 300? Hmm.. lets see.. add, subtract, multiply, divide. Fractions. Percentages (same thing). "Word" problems. Maybe a touch of very very simple geomentry.

    There is no need for a new mathbook for these kids. In fact, they would probably best be taught by grabbing one which was used in the 1920s or 1950s. Just wondering.. can your grandparents (or in some cases, if alive - great grandparents) add, subtract, multiply and divide? Or were the books and teaching "methods" just so atrocious back then that everybody ended up a dolt? Whats that? test scores ahve declined! Well maybe going back to what was used when the scores were higher might be a better thing to do? When in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging!

    Bottom line: nannyism. school boards ptas publishers state and federal governemnt alll trying to find ways to justify their existence by fucking up what already worked quite well.

  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Sunday March 04, 2012 @12:14PM (#39239971)
    The advantage of open sourcing K-12 textbooks is that when schools finally go digital, they'll save a great deal of money per student. Free books = more educational money to go elsewhere. Also open sourced K-12 textbooks means you can buy kids in 3rd world countries a laptop through OLPC, and they'll have a chance at a first world education. Textbooks are just the beginning, I think all sorts of tutor software could be used too. People think it would be great for when we get Artificial Intelligence that it can teach our children, but we could make a software suite to help do it now.
  • by frisket (149522) <peterNO@SPAMsilmaril.ie> on Sunday March 04, 2012 @07:18PM (#39242989) Homepage
    My company does typesetting, and that includes typesetting math for publishers. The quality of what we are asked to set is sometimes excellent, sometime abysmal. We use LaTeX for the work, regardless of what the publisher sends us, because we can trust it not to fall over and break under pressure, something we cannot say for other systems. As a result, we often get the publisher coming back to us asking how we got it to look so nice, which is very flattering (and we never tell them what we used), but supports Ms Keeghan's point that the publishers know that some of their product is rubbish. Some of the authors may well be to blame — we don't get to meet them — but publisher illiteracy plus publisher veniality is going to account for a lot of the problem.

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