School Texts

My youngest son is about to return to college this weekend, so naturally school has been on my mind. He’s a chemistry major. As a recent Post article reminded me, textbooks, especially in the sciences, have grown so expensive that many are simply rented for the semester.

This seems wrong to me. In my experience, you bought a textbook so that you could mark it up, scribble in the margins, highlight key passages, make it your own—thus one learned biology or Roman history. To keep a textbook pristine so that it can be returned or resold seems to undermine its entire purpose.

Somewhere in the basement here I still have my copy of E.H. Gombrich’s Story of Art and, more likely than not, even Samuelson’s Economics. At the very least, these books remind me that I once aspired to be something of a polymath. But then I did enjoy reading textbooks—it was wonderful to have an entire subject laid out for you in a logical, orderly manner.

Of course, I also remain highly suspicious of all forms of “distance learning” and any online course. To me, teaching requires the active presence of a teacher, an I-Thou connection that only the physical immediacy of the classroom or seminar room allows. To me, the teacher as an exemplar of his subject, embodying it in himself or herself. Note that word “embodying”; flesh and blood matters. So much of education really depends on the aura and charisma of the human teacher, not a digital avatar.

How do other members of the Reading Room feel about textbooks and online courses? Have you kept any of your books from college? Do you have anecdotes about the textbooks and classes of your own high school or college days? Please share your thoughts, gripes, and memories. Many thanks.

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