Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, August 22, 2005


Page 7



Tiny Textbooks?




(The writer represents the 66th Assembly District, which includes portions of western Riverside County and northern San Diego County.)


Miniaturization is cool. Laptops are cooler than desktops. Tiny flip phones are cooler than the older, larger cell phones. Blackberries and Sidekicks combine the coolness of laptops and tiny phones. Mini Coopers are in, though I’m not quite sure why. Even personal miniaturization in the form of anorexia appears to be cool —- at least if the covers of People and US magazine are a good barometer.

But much like anorexia, the quest for miniaturization can sometimes be harmful and shortsighted. A bill that recently passed the floor of the Assembly is a perfect example. AB 756 by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg would require school textbooks to be miniaturized. In much the same way as the bill a few years ago that would have had textbooks selected by weight rather than content, this bill would prohibit school boards from approving textbooks that are more than 200 pages long.


Of course, this is in direct conflict with the legislature’s previous mandates that created a long list of content standards that require the coverage and inclusion of many topics, ideas, and of course, “diverse” viewpoints in every subject. It also contradicts the trend in textbook selection that highly values lots of pretty pictures, human interest stories, trivia, large and colorful print, cartoons, and other devices designed to hold the attention of our ADD-addled children and avoid the long stretches of boring text that will put them to sleep.

Jackie Goldberg’s vision is that the new textbooks would merely contain the basic highlights of the required content standards and then students would be directed to web addresses where students could find more detail and analysis of their own.

As a former Los Angeles school board member herself, Ms. Goldberg ought to know that not every family has a computer hooked up to the internet. There are also far more families with two or three or four children in school than there are with two or three of four computers to serve them, so they could all do their homework at the same time.

Then when you consider how many children are doing their homework on soccer fields and in the hallways of gymnastics and karate studios, you quickly see how the idea becomes unworkable. Even if a child has easy access to a computer, one hour of homework can quickly turn into four hours when you log on the net to do it. Even as an adult it is difficult to stay focused on the task at hand when there are so many interesting diversions and distractions available with just the click of a mouse.

There are several predictable results from this bill if it becomes law. Teachers will no longer be able to assign many classical novels in literature classes. Children will be very unlikely to actually seek out the supplemental on-line material and will instead rely on what will essentially be the “Cliff’s Notes” version of the dumbed down textbooks we already have. Also likely is that textbook makers will have to break one large textbook into two smaller ones, at an increased cost to schools. Two hundred pages are simply insufficient for many subjects. In a normal school year that is only a little over a page per school day that could be assigned. Publishers will end up creating fall and spring semester texts separately, to the benefit of nobody.

I know miniaturization is cool, and I know with the latest health crisis being childhood obesity, everyone wants to figure out how to reduce the size of objects and people alike. But the answer to bloated and unhealthy children is not bulimia, and the answer to bloated and unhealthy schools isn’t anorexic tiny textbooks.


Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company