Are Textbooks Irrelevant?

When I taught school, I often didn’t use textbooks much at all.  The books I was given to use in public school were poorly written and organized.  The private school where I worked didn’t use textbooks for most subjects.  I relied on literature, as well as things I photocopied from various sources or worksheets and handouts I created myself.  I also made pretty heavy use of the internet and worked some with the middle school students I taught on screening and understanding information from the internet.

Through one of the blogs I look at, I happened to come across this challenge.  The blogger asserts that, “there’s not much in your children’s textbooks that isn’t available in at least a dozen places online for free.”

As a homeschooling parent, I have a deep familiarity with the textbook resources we use.  I chose them and I use them.  I think it all depends on how you define the question.  Is the basic information contained in all our workbooks, curricula and texts available for free on the internet?  Of course.  It’s first grade.  Of course you can find it on the internet for free.  Our math curriculum is already free online.  We could also find free handwriting pages online easily.  The National Right to Read Foundation provides a pretty good free phonics primers with good word lists, not to mention that Starfall is doing its part for early phonics.  Wikipedia has, I’m sure, every ounce of information from our science and history books.  However, we use these books because I like the way the information is organized and presented.  I like the way Handwriting Without Tears organizes the letters by their shape.  I like the way Miquon, which we use as a supplement, encourages the kids to think about numbers in a new way.  I like the way Explode the Code has already organized the words for us into activities.

Furthermore, I can’t imagine sitting on the sofa reading sections of Wikipedia to my kids instead of Story of the World.  How absurd!  The information is out there, but it’s not written with children as the intended audience yet.  And even if there are enough suggested activities on the internet, it can take me hours of searching to find the right ones.  Textbooks gather those activities together in one place so I can pick and choose them quickly.  I can easily imagine that this will change in the near future.  However, for now, textbooks still have a place at our house.  They package information and activities for children in a way the internet does not.  At least not yet.

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