The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

The Case Against Textbooks

on August 18, 2018

I have never been a fan of textbooks.  As a student I resented carrying several of them back and forth to school every day, reading long, dull chapters and searching for the answers to stupid questions. Inside the covers of many of my textbooks other students had written things like, “In case of fire, throw this in.” Although those were meant to be jokes, I think they reflected the feelings of my classmates at that time.

Much later, as a beginning teacher, I was asked to substitute for another teacher who was very ill. When it became clear that she would not be able to return to her job, I was invited to stay for the rest of the school year.  Almost the first thing I did was to collect the textbooks in students’ desks and store all of them in a classroom cabinet. Non of my students complained when they saw those books were missing, and a few actually cheered.

Several years and a few jobs later, I became the Chair of the English Department at a newly built high school. When our school district decided to purchase new English textbooks for us, none of my teaching staff was pleased. The only textbooks they needed to teach were the poetry collections we already had; and the teachers felt that obtaining new and popular fiction would be more beneficial for students. In all my later jobs as an elementary school principal we also opted for paperback copies of modern literature instead of textbooks and workbooks. Having a wide range of inexpensive materials at hand enabled teachers to use books that were appropriate for the reading levels and interests of all their students. In addition, they felt they could use a number of the books purchased to teach history, geography, or even some aspects of science.

The  problem with one-type-fits-all textbooks was–and still is–that they are developed by non-teachers who are attempting to serve the levels and backgrounds of all students everywhere with one book. And the results for students are boredom and assignments that do not serve their needs or interests.

In all those actions our purpose was not defiance toward our superiors, but a firm conviction that the materials teachers chose were better for teaching and less expensive than textbooks. In all the schools where I have been a principal we were able to amass large numbers and a variety of paperbacks to serve teachers’ preferences and students needs. We also found that paperbacks were more inexpensive than leather-bound copies. Their covers strengthened with Scotch tape lasted just as long, if not longer. And if the books lost their appeal after a year or two of use, we could through them away without  feeling we had been reckless.

4 responses to “The Case Against Textbooks

  1. doctorsam7 says:

    Well said! I’ve never been a fan of one size fits all. With all the resources now available via the web et. al. it is completely realistic for teachers to find/create great materials. We are in a golden age for trade books, lots of great authors out there Some cautions. Be respectful of copyrights and train staff on the rules. Share the load in finding/creating materials. Many hands make light work. Have a curriculum in place to guide in the choice of materials. One of the nice side effects of this could be the days of the textbook as the curriculum could finally be over.


  2. Karianne says:

    Hi Joanne,
    I stumbled on your blog today while doing some research on proven reading instructional methods. I am a secondary education teacher in Idaho and am trying to initiate some changes in my local district. I would like to contact you with regard to your reading expertise. I read the 2000 National Reading Panel findings, including your minority opinion, and wanted to explore more updated information and studies. Is there an email address I can reach you at?
    Karianne Perrenoud


    • writerjoney says:

      High Karianne,
      I was pleased and flattered get you message today. You certainly may contact me at I still have lots of opinions about the teaching of reading.



      • Karianne says:

        Thank you! Can you email me directly? I would rather move this discussion out of the comments section of your blog. My email is kperrenoud81 at gmail.


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