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Opinion

Some textbooks have become obsolete

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April 15, 2015

Earlier this week I successfully did something many college students only wish they could successfully do: I opened a textbook, and I read it.

Now, that is not to say I’m put in some elite class of professional textbook readers. In fact, I am quite the opposite. As a professional writing major, I find that I don’t have to completely rely on a textbook to do well in my classes. And before any of you go saying “Wow, that Cristin is lazy! Look at her sliding her way through her classes!” or high-fiving me because you’ve never read a textbook in your life, hear me out.

It’s not that I don’t want to read them; it’s that I really don’t find them necessary or helpful. Of all the five—I mean 20—textbook pages I read in my life, I learned very little.

I suppose I really cannot speak for the students majoring in math, science, business or history fields, because textbook reading is much more essential to your overall performance in the classroom. But, have you ever read a textbook for an English class? I mean, have you really and truly sat down to read a chapter out of a book for technical writing, editing or literature? I would imagine not, because you most likely have burned the book by the end of the chapter. Well, let me be the first to tell you, mainly if you have never experienced such agony, that it really doesn’t enhance your learning past the first two pages.

Unless the author of such a textbook is very talented and has plenty of experience writing for an academic audience, textbook reading is a heavy bore. English textbook authors in particular believe their readers are actually paperback dictionaries with legs, so they use words that are about 20 letters long and really are only used by nobody. So, as quickly as I can get distracted by cats on the Internet, I lose any comprehension of much of the text. Not, of course, that I was paying attention anyway. I usually make it to somewhere in the third page before I start daydreaming that I’m Beyoncé and can then only see black ink on white paper.

I actually don’t see this as a bad thing, as preposterous as that sounds. The thing about slightly less than mediocre textbook authors is that they basically repeat the same sentence for 20 pages, in about 50 different ways. Every time I make the mistake of actually sitting down for what should be an hour but turns out to be five hours due to my Beyoncé fantasies, I learn maybe two things. This may include, “Bob walked the dog,” and two paragraphs later: “On the street was Bob who walked his dog.” Two paragraphs later yet: “The black, concrete street was where Bob walked his dog with two tails.”

Are you annoyed yet by Bob and his dog? Yeah, try reading that for 20 more pages, then we’ll see just how annoyed you get. To me, textbooks are more of a test of our patience than a test of our learning.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if you read textbooks, learn a lot from them, and they ultimately help you succeed in your classes, more power to you. Everyone learns differently, and every subject is just a little bit different. However, if you are like me and would rather ride a bicycle that is on fire than finish a 20-page textbook chapter, don’t fret.

There are many other ways of learning material and succeeding in class without having to rely on a textbook that probably smells like 1952. So, until textbook authors become more interesting or at least throw in a few jokes, stick to what helps you most.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.