Monday, January 5, 2009

Unschoolers and Textbooks

When I was a radical unschooler my position on textbooks was that I would have nothing to do with them. Textbooks were dry, boring and rigid accounts of things better learned through experience or good books.

Now I have about a couple of dozen different textbooks and my collection grows every time I visit the thrift store or our local used bookstore. Sometimes I bring them home and realize they do indeed suck. Sometimes though, especially when I've chosen a textbook with some care, I find that they're interesting and engrossing and catch the interest of the kids. One of the first I picked up, Mathematical Ideas, sort of a general college text for kids not headed into math and science, is one I've worked through in parts and still enjoy taking down and reading. The Oxford Canadian geography and history texts have fantastic illustrations and lively writing. Catherine's Singapore Math texts constantly make me think about math in new ways. The art textbooks may weigh a ton but are still fun to flip through. The high school biology text doesn't turn my crank but Catherine loves the pictures and illustrations.

It is my opinion that, like any genre, textbooks have their stinkers but also have their masterpeices.

I was recently following a discussion on textbooks on an unschooling list (which I joined hoping to rediscover my unschooling roots) where the general thinking (or my interpretation of it anyway) seemed to be that textbooks weren't capable of being good learning tools and perhaps really had no business in an unschooling house. It surprised me although, considering that was my own opinion a few years back, it shouldn't have.

But are there unschoolers out there, honest-to-goodness radical unschoolers, who love a great textbook? Who see real value and joy in sitting down with say, an algebra text and working through it? Who clap their hands and squeal with joy when they see a copy of Campbell's Biology in a thrift store for a dollar?

Because I do love a great textbook. I'm sort of wondering if that love means I've taken an irreversible step over into the dark side.

12 comments:

obimomkenobi said...

You found a Campbell's Biology for a dollar??? I'm so jealous I could just...

Sorry, I just passed out there. But now I'm back.

I think one of the dangerous things about unschooling (at least it was for me) can be when we start having those "But unschoolers don't..." conversations with ourselves. If textbooks float your boat and get you learning about something, great. If they don't, no big deal. Learning is learning.

And if you do join us occasional textbook-ers, we'd be happy to help instruct you in the power of the dark side. The textbook is quite readable.

boremetotears said...

Like you, I started out shunning the evil text, but grew to appreciate it. In fact, just this afternoon, I picked up a great high school chemistry text for 50 cents at the library bookstore!

Dawn said...

I didn't actually find the Campbell text yet, let alone for a dollar. When I do I WILL be doing the happy dance though.

My best find lately was Conceptual Physics text, student workbook, test bank and teacher's guide for $10. Don't know if we'll use it all but it's handy to have all those resources.

I don't think I can go back to unschooling again, not like I was.

Susan R said...

Dawn,
I can't say I have ever been a radical unschooler, but I certainly see the value in a good text. Some subjects IMO need to be presented in a linear format, with beginning skills and concepts building up to advanced skills/concepts. Sometimes the only thing I use of a textbook is the Table of Contents or the Bibliography, but I know I will always use a few texts to some extent.

A couple of years ago my dh met a retiring salesman from Holt Rhinehart Winston, and he gave us the contents of his sample warehouse- literally hundreds of texts and TEs. I kept a few and gave the rest to a charitable foundation that provides educational materials to schools in the Philippines. That was fun. :D

Brenda said...

In college I was taught that worksheets were evil and good teachers don't use them. When I became a teacher, I found that people DID use worksheets. You have to get grades every now and then!
When I first started reading about homeschooling, I believed that NO ONE was using textbooks. And guess what? Yeah, not true either!

Momma said...

I am an unschooling mom. Maybe I'm not radical enough, but we use all kinds of books, texts included.
The whole point of unschooling is that the child decides her/his interests and goes from there, right? So I don't think you're diverting from the unschooling philosophy if your child chooses to use a textbook to achieve their goal....

Dawn said...

I have to say that I can't claim to be an unschooler anymore...I'm just trying to get back to some of the fun and thinking I had when we were. It was just a little funny to see my own old attitude come back and slap me in the face I guess and I wondered how widespread that thinking was.

rolfeschmidt said...

Like most people here, I don't know if I'm a "real" unschooler. I just like to let the kids lead their learning.

I can't imagine doing without (good) textbooks. My kids will drop everything and plow through 50 pages of Singapore Math in a couple of days. When they want to know about a subject, we often go to the library, check out a stack of books, and bring them home to read.

IMO it seems ridiculous to keep resources away from your kids just because they have the wrong label on them.

JJ Ross said...

Hi Rolfe and Dawn, honest-to-goodness RADICAL unschooler here. :)

Once upon a time I adored School including yes, college bookstores full of seductive textbooks on everything imaginable, where I want to buy out the whole place! I still am partial to courses and I still love all books and bookstores.

So it would be silly to misconstrue radical unschooler warning about textbooks, as saying textbooks are taboo. Real unschoolers don't even believe that about school courses, much less school books!

Usually the silliness arises because someone is sincerely trying to help a schoolish mom escape the schoolish mindset by getting her to see texts as just books, no BETTER for learning than any books and often worse, to help her actually unschool, by preventing her from being tempted by texts into sneaky homework assignments and coercive text-peddling hoping to SCHOOL kids into studying and getting through subject area hoops on schedule.

This is a hard, hard mind change to make for (schooled) moms wanting to provide the very best education possible for their own children. Especially moms like me schooled in schooling!

Until you can really shake off the schoolish mindset and stop the tape loop in your head that kids need to be taught and made to learn, you're better off leaving texts out of your home library than justifying school-at-home by kidding yourself about unschooling with texts, which can backfire and leave your kids suspicious of all books as schoolish and mom as more teacher than she'll admit . . .

Once you really, truly are over that, you can indulge your own Joy of Booking to your heart's content and share it all with the kids as honest unschooling, including books that someone wrote for a course.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ok, I am not an unschooler at all (Well, I am mostly now because my eldest is 5 and so yeah, we unschool Kindergarten because it's easier at this age, but plan to go classical....)

but I just wanted to say...

CONCEPTUAL PHYSICS is an AWESOME book. Because if your kid has any Algebra at all, they can work through it themselves, and the text AND problems are engaging and fun.

Campbell Bio is OK, but a little light on the pictures-- I think there are better ones out there....

My fave is actually "Animals without Backbones"-- designed as a textbook, but reads like a novel about flatworms!

Ok... sorry, back to life....

JJ Ross said...

I was sitting here smiling to see "conceptual physics" for kids with algebra, and "my eldest if five" in the same comment -- but then I remembered Rolfe's boys, so maybe it makes perfect sense! ;-)

Trisha said...

Another unschooler here. I don't have anything against texbooks, just think that they are often out of date. New information can be found on the internet or magazines or regular books (which work on much faster publishing timetables.

But if YOU love textbooks, that's fine. The whole unschooling issue is with your KIDS. If they're interested in something in particular, there are hundreds of ways to expand on that idea, to bring them things they will love but might not have heard about. Textbooks are only ONE way.