Why Schools Should Spend on PRINT Textbooks

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Petitioned the BoE tonight at the annual Budget Hearing for more spending on textbooks. Here’s the statement:

I’m here to advocate for increased spending on PRINT textbooks. Your current budget of 105K works out to be just $12 per student if you ONLY included our 8,000 plus high school students. If you care about graduating independent lifelong learners and increasing student achievement, you’ll devote more resources to textbooks.

Being an independent learner means you can continue learning outside of a structured school environment. Vital to this quality is the ability to read and learn from books. Students need textbooks, especially starting in middle school, so that they can get in the habit of teaching themselves things, instead of depending entirely on their teachers for knowledge.

Perhaps you agree, but say “we don’t need print textbooks because they can get it online.” Consider then:

  • When students are reading from a screen can they sustain the concentration needed to actually comprehend a textbook and retain the information? Research shows that when people read online, as opposed to print, most don’t read word by word, but they scan quickly. Teenagers are especially likely to have a short attention span and seek stimulation when they are online, not knowledge. And the more Web pages looks like book pages, the less people read them.
  • Online reading does not favor knowledge acquisition, distinctive speech and prose, or the capacity to reason in long sequential units. It does not cultivate the capacity to comprehend dense texts. If the reading is too hard, something easier, something distracting is just one click away.  The mind online drifts to simplicity and to images.
  • The Web is a consumer habitat, not an educational one. Most time spent in front of screens is social media, playing games, perhaps shopping – activities that involve low levels of cognition. Digital tech caters to haste and low attention spans. Can we really expect them to suddenly think at a high level and focus their attention when we ask them to pull up educational content on a screen at home?

Better that they at least have the option for a textbook at home – which allows them to get away from the mindless activities of screens with all their distractions and concentrate on learning.

We’ve done our students a great disservice by taking textbooks away. If you really want them to become lifelong learners, you need to put books in their hands.  And if you really want them paying attention and thinking deeply about what they read, it can’t be online – it has to be print.  I don’t know how much more is needed, but I would hope that our academic leaders would recognize the severe limitations of reading online, and be given the money needed to make sure kids have textbooks.


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