Friday, May 21, 2010

Math Textbooks are Stupid

I opened up the cover of a student's Algebra textbook when I was at Sylvan the other day and I flipped forward to the list of authors, plural. There were 8 authors of this textbook, as well as 2 contributing authors.  I read the description of the 8 authors and found myself outraged.  Of the 8 authors:

  • Most were college professors
  • One or Two were also Deans at Colleges
  • A couple were professors of education
  • Some were administrators at school districts or worked for state departments of education
  • Only two were described as being 'teachers'
  • And one of those teachers had founded a couple publishing companies since his retirement.
This disgusted me.

Why are there 8 authors? I have never seen any other book with 8 authors. There's a saying, 'Too many cooks spoil the broth.'  There are just too many people offering input on this book, and I feel it's entirely likely that anything that any one of them wanted to add was likely added, without much conflict. After all, more content is good, right? Thicker books sell for more.

Why are so few of these people actually teaching Algebra? There were 28 reviewers, and those reviewers were mostly teachers, but I wonder if these teachers are evaluating the book as it compares to other Algebra books, or as it compares to what a math book should or could be.

Why are school administrators writing these books? So that they can recommend them to their district so they can get a kickback?  Why?

Mathematics textbooks are stupid in their current form. There is all sorts of Information Boxes, Example Problems, Bullet Points, Side Notes, Graphics, and Pictures. These things distract the student from the actual paragraphs of text which describe and instruct the student in how to do the actual mathematics.

I wrote, some time ago, of the advantages that eReaders could provide to mathematics textbooks. Now, I believe that the biggest advantage that they could provide would be that they could minimize all of this extraneous information, so that the most important information, the paragraphs of text, would be emphasized. Those paragraphs contain the actual discourse, the actual teaching, the information which actually EXPLAINS the mathematics. And only when the student actually wants to view this information, would they open it up, and view it.

Then there is the issue that the mathematics that we are teaching are students is completely useless to them. So much is wrong.

The video on this page, from a TED talk, further explains many of the problems that mathematics textbooks have. It also talks about many of the shortcomings of current mathematics education.