This particular essay describes the experience of writing an earth-sciencetext and obviously contains a lot of discussion specific to the earth sciences.However, I suspect the process is not that different in other fields as well.Feel free to substitute appropriate analogies from your own field.
Most of the complaints commonly leveled againsttextbooks result from forces generated by the textbook market itself. Textbookswill not be rigorous and interesting to read until reviewers and adopters demandit, and that demand can only come through sales. Unfortunately, although manyeducators say they want certain changes in textbooks, they often reactnegatively when confronted with textbooks that actually offer those changes. Theresponses of textbook reviewers and adopters, when it comes to the actualdecisions that shape textbooks in the marketplace, are overwhelmingly in favorof traditional textbooks, and often reinforce many of the practices that causethe greatest dissatisfaction with textbooks. The rising cost of textbooks islargely due to the used book market. Before used textbooks were widely sold,publishers could distribute the development costs of textbooks over severalyears; now those costs must be recouped in the first semester.
I found the process of publishing a textbook(Dutch, Moran and Monroe, 1998) extremely informative. Not only did I learn agreat deal about geology in writing the book, but I also learned a lot aboutpublishing and the textbook market. Considering everything I have heard and readabout the quality of science education, I thought it might be useful to providean author's perspective on why textbooks are the way they are. My experience isbest described as ten years of unremitting pressure to dumb down the text, andmost of it came, sadly, not from corporate "suits" looking at thebottom line, but from people who style themselves educators.
Although there are many commentaries in this andother educational journals about the problems of textbooks, there seem to bevery few narratives by textbook authors describing their experiences. Most ofthose deal with the business aspects of publishing and the author-publisherinteraction (Brock, 1985; Lewis, 1989, 1993; Henry, 2002). The closest parallelI have found to this paper is Tyson-Bernstein (1988). He found himself torn bytwo conflicting forces: technical reviewers who demanded high precision and moredetail, and low-end users who wanted simplicity and less detail. Many of hisexperiences mirror mine.
This project began late in 1986 when mycolleague Joe Moran, who has extensive publishing experience, suggestedcollaborating on an earth-science text. We signed with a publisher, but afterendless cycles of new editors and market analyses, we finally asked to bereleased from our contract. In 1992 I contacted another publisher and revivedthe project. One of the original co-authors bowed out, and another came aboard.In effect, the project was actually two publishing ventures joined end-to-end,and the text finally came out in 1998. The first chapter drafts were written onan Apple II clone with 128 kilobytes of RAM, the last on a PC running Windows95. The project lasted long enough to see the return of Halley's Comet, a cometcrash into Jupiter, the first naked-eye supernova since Johannes Kepler, and thecollapse of apartheid and the Soviet Union.
The book received uniformly favorable commentsand very little criticism, but because of production delays, it came out at themidpoint of the normal publishing cycle for earth science texts and did not goto a second edition. Although I am professionally dissatisfied with many of theexperiences I relate in this paper, I attribute the sales outcome of the text totiming rather than any specific editorial decisions.
The first lesson I learned was about economics.According to the publishers we talked with, it costs on the order of a quarterof a million dollars to get a textbook into production. About ten per cent oftextbooks printed are sent as instructor or sample copies. Qualityblack-and-white line art, such as characterized classic textbooks like Holmes(1965), is no longer acceptable for introductory texts. Everything nowadays inintroductory textbooks is full color, although, to be fair, color printingtechnology has advanced so rapidly and become so standard that color printingdoes not have too serious an impact on production costs.
The real reason textbook costs are soaring isthis: once upon a time publishers had several years to recover their productioncosts. Now they have to recover costs in the first semester. After the firstsemester, used textbooks account for almost all sales. Indeed, used textbooksaccount for a substantial fraction of initial sales, because textbook buyersscavenge and resell complimentary copies. Publishers who once had several yearsto turn a profit now must make up their costs in one semester. The fixed costsof publishing, once spread out over several years, are now borne wholly by thefirst semester's buyers. This may be one reason why textbook prices haveoutpaced inflation.
The used-textbook trade is a classic Tragedy ofthe Commons. Individuals acting in their own short-term interests have damagedtheir environment (in this case economically) but individuals acting separatelyhave little power to reverse the process.
One of my pet peeves about contemporarytextbooks is that the art is irritatingly busy. I flatly refuse to use productsof one well-known geoscience illustrator because they are so overly elaboratethey obscure rather than clarify concepts. In my view, line art is better thancolor, solid light colors are preferable to dark, and shading and texturing arevirtually never helpful. Unfortunately, many of my own attempts to providebetter illustrations were rebuffed because it was simpler and cheaper to re-useexisting stock art rather than draw new illustrations.
One sobering discovery I made was that publishedillustrations in the professional literature are not necessarily available forreuse. A good-faith attempt to contact the last known copyright owner is usuallysufficient, but I had to forego one spectacular illustration because the ownercould not be located.
The consolidation of textbook publishers haschanged the textbook market in recent years. There are fewer outlets fortextbooks, although some publishers publish several books simultaneously. Thisinternal competition cuts into authors' royalties but does not harm, and mayincrease, the publisher's overall sales. It seems to be a pattern in manyindustries that a period of consolidation is followed by fissioning ofspecial-purpose subsidiaries to capture niche markets. Thus, the market issensitive enough that a real demand for rigorous textbooks would trigger aresponse. Publishers are more concerned about the bottom line than the specificcontent of their rextbooks and would just as cheerfully publish textbooks loadedwith calculus if they sold. It is convenient to blame publishers for thesameness of textbooks, but they are not the real cause. We educators are.
In most curricula, Earth Science comprisesgeology, oceanography, meteorology and perhaps astronomy. (The astronomycomponent is to earth science what a discussion of earth as a planet is to anastronomy course: a brief overview to provide context) We were repeatedlycriticized by reviewers for emphasizing physical geology, and many said this wastheir complaint about all earth science texts.
On the other hand, what is the alternative? Forexample, how many distinct substances make up the ocean? One: sea water. Howmany make up the atmosphere? A handful: air, water droplets, ice crystals, dust,aerosols. How many make up the solid earth? Thousands, of which perhaps fiftyrocks and minerals are common enough to require discussion at even anintroductory level. The solid earth is intrinsically far more complex than theoceans and atmosphere, with a much greater variety of phenomena, and unlike theoceans and atmosphere, it preserves a detailed historical record. There is noway a properly-written earth science text can avoid being at least half geology.It's earth science and 99 per cent of the volume of all earth systems is thesolid earth. A course that attempts to spend four weeks each on geology,meteorology, oceanography and astronomy will do such a superficial job ongeology as to be worse than useless. To those who think earth science textsoveremphasize geology, too bad. That's how the world is, literally.
There is sometimes a vast difference betweenwhat we say we want and what we actually choose, and this is true of textbooksas well. Here are some things I thought geoscientists wanted in textbooks untilchapter reviewers set me straight.
As much as we claim to want this, just try towrite a textbook that uses contractions, personal pronouns, or colloquialisms.There is a difference between effective spoken and written language, but somereviewers get annoyed at any informality at all. Despite all that has beenwritten in current style manuals, the passive voice still seems to be preferredby many reviewers. And many reviewers do not want words of one syllable whenpolysyllabic sesquipedalian equivalents are available for pedagogicalutilization. We have stodgy, dull writing because too many of us still think itsounds more "professional."
When I began writing the introductory chapter, Ithought a good approach might be to begin by describing the day-to-day practiceof geoscience. Who are geoscientists? How many are women or minorities? What dothey do? What are some of the problems they face in the field? The response fromreviewers was overwhelming: B-o-r-i-n-g! (a direct quote.) So I opened with ablood-and-thunder account of the Chicxulub impact instead (one adopter told methat opening swayed his decision to adopt the text).
Certainly any discussion of science as itactually is practiced would have to include a good deal of history. A historicalapproach shows science in action by describing how important problems wereactually solved, and is often also a good heuristic device. A historicalapproach deals with the broad picture first and adds refinements later. Often,the most logical way to approach a complex subject is the way it was actuallyapproached historically. Unfortunately, history is one of the first thingsreviewers want to cut.
Just don't show science in any historicalcontext, or take sides in any real controversy. I shudder to think what wouldhappen to any textbook that treated our society's approach to risk as the voodooscience it actually is, or flatly assaulted scientific creationism.
In the chapter on the stars, I had a box onenvironmental problems in astronomy, specifically light and electromagneticpollution. Stray light and radio signals can reduce a hundred million dollarobservatory to complete ineffectiveness, and are a tremendous problem forastronomers (IDA, 2004). Problems with light pollution are reported in virtuallyevery issue of Sky and Telescope. In recent years, light pollution has begungaining the attention of the general public as well as astronomers. To myknowledge, we had (and still have) the only earth-science text to address thisproblem. One reviewer complained that he didn't think this was an importantissue. Students who don't want to become informed are bad enough; what can wesay about educators who don't want to become informed?
One piece of good news is that the war onpolitical correctness has turned into a rout. Anything that remotely looks likepolitical correctness is likely to make even supporters of politically correctcauses cringe. I know, because despite my own conservative leanings, I wasaccused of being Politically Correct a couple of times. In particular, a pieceon women in astronomy struck several reviewers as looking like a bow tofeminism. Actually, I wrote that section at the very start of the project,before Political Correctness had even emerged as an issue. I felt (and still do)that astronomy is one area where women have made an astonishing number ofworld-class discoveries and more people need to know about it. (The book was solong in gestation that the Political Correctness controversy mostly came andwent before publication.)
Initially, I treated metamorphism anddeformation in a single chapter. For the life of me, I cannot imagine whyreviewers had a problem with this arrangement, but they didn't merely grumble;they went completely ballistic. One said flatly that he could not understand whyI treated metamorphism and deformation together in the same chapter. Apparentlythe fact that they often accompany each other during orogenies wasn'tsufficient. I also treated the entire coal series from peat to graphite in asingle discussion, causing a reviewer to object vehemently that lignite andbituminous coal didn't belong there because they are sedimentary, notmetamorphic.
In my physical geology class, I spend the firsttwo thirds of the course following the rock cycle. I describe minerals andigneous rocks (appearance of new material in the crust), then discuss weatheringand fluvial erosion, sedimentary rocks, other surface processes, then finallymetamorphism and deformation. One reason for that approach is that it startswith the surface, where things are familiar, then deals with the earth'sinterior after students have developed a bit of geological intuition. Anotherreason is that it avoids having a long string of successive labs on handspecimens, but instead intersperses them with other subjects.
Our text was originally organized along thoselines, but so many reviewers complained that we reverted to the traditionalorganization of a chapter devoted solely to rocks. So instead of spreading outthe memorization of rocks and minerals in small modules, our reviewers insistedon a single, memorization-intensive chapter where rocks were presented out oftheir geologic context.
Just don't omit my favorites. Here are quotesfrom reviewers who criticized other parts of the text for being too detailed ortoo heavy on terminology. Bear in mind that the text is an introductoryearth-science text for non-majors.
One point not widely understood by non-authorsis how limited is the creative control authors have over many aspects oftextbooks. Authors are free to develop creative ways of explaining topics, buthigh order structural issues like chapter order and organization are largelydriven by editors, based on feedback from reviewers. An author who adamantlyrefuses to go along is likely to find himself or herself without apublisher.
The review process in textbooks is differentfrom journal articles. Authors have a bit more freedom to judge the merits ofreviewer's comments when writing a textbook. The best reviewers caught errors,although my own single most embarrassing error slipped past every reviewer and Ionly caught it when I gave in to some nagging doubts and double checked itmyself. Good reviewers also corrected misinterpretations, provided additionaluseful details and constructive suggestions, and caught mechanical problems.Mediocre reviewers often got hung up on proofreading issues, failing to realizethat metric conversions, chapter references and spelling would be cleaned up inthe normal course of editing. Flagging errors of that sort is useful, but oftenthese reviewers' only comments on a draft might be that metric and English unitswere occasionally inconsistent. Bad reviewers sometimes had nothing constructiveto offer. One reviewer said repeatedly that our writing was poor, then admittedthat he didn't know exactly what good writing would be, but our work didn'tqualify. I told my editor "I may not know what good writing is, but I knowwhat good reviewing is, and this is not it."
The time lag in writing a textbook is such thatauthors may have to anticipate how events will turn out. For example, when westarted, the Lake Nyos, Cameroon disaster (Holloway, 2000) was recent history. Idescribed the gases as being magmatic in origin and drew fire from reviewers whowondered why I didn't also discuss the possibility that the gases came fromdecaying organic matter in the lake. I ignored them, partly to keep the textmanageable in length but mostly because I thought the organic origin hypothesiswas unsound on its face and would not stand the test of time. It didn't.
Although geoscientists rightly pride themselveson being among the most interdisciplinary of scientists, the reviewers' quotesabove show that some geoscientists are as prone to tunnel vision as anyone else.And though I yield to nobody in my disdain for the publish-or-perish system, itappears from review comments that the quality of scholarship at institutionsthat require no research at all is often just plain abysmal. Some reviewers hadclearly not read a journal in years, and if they did read current literature,they got it wrong. One reviewer told me he was under the impression that mostgeoscientists no longer believed convection drove plate tectonics. That was newsto me, and I suspect to most geophysicists as well. Frequently reviewersobjected to the inclusion of current published research findings because theyeither had never heard of them, or because the findings conflicted with what thereviewer was already teaching. The tragedy is that these reviewers are teachingunbalanced, obsolete, or simply erroneous geoscience to their students. Worseyet, as reviewers they are obstructing the publication of texts that reflect thecurrent state of geoscience.
Even conscientious reviewers can object toseeing newly published research. Byerkerk-Kauffman (1993) criticized a film forpresenting an inaccurate portrayal of freeze-thaw weathering, only to have theauthors (Burk and Robbins, 1994) point out that the portrayal was based directlyon recently published research. Byerkerk-Kauffman (1994) had the grace andprofessionalism to admit her error.
Some battles are just not worth fighting. In myreading of accounts of the St. Pierre disaster of 1902, I found references tosurvivors other than the two cited in most texts. These survivors' storieseither did not become widely known or they were not in the city proper, althoughthey were still injured (Garesche, 1902, p. 34-36, 44). In my original draft Ireferred to a "small number" of survivors on land. Reviewers objectedso strongly to any change in the traditional telling that it was obviousprospective adopters would respond the same way. Not one reviewer considered thepossibility I had researched the topic more thoroughly than they had. Settingthe record straight would have required a long digression completely out ofproportion to the importance of the topic. I changed the text to a"couple" of survivors on land, which allows the traditionalists to goon thinking "two" while conveying an element of doubt.
Science teaching is often criticized forproliferating terms or presenting concepts by fiat instead of explaining howscience actually works. To me, there is only one adequate response: presentideas only with adequate explanation, and include nothing that cannot be fullyand properly explained. I suggest that textbooks should include facts orconcepts only if they meet one of the following criteria:
Soil classification is probably the most complexclassification problem in science. The systems now in use are an intellectualtriumph, and an excellent illustration of how and why scientists classifythings. Pedocals and pedalfers, still found in some texts, are terms that havebeen obsolete for fifty years (Brevik, 2000, 2002) although they have someheuristic value as a broad distinction between humid and dry-climate soils.Soils are not glamorous. Students have every right to ignore them provided theyare willing to go without eating.
For every symmetrical graben like the OwensValley there is a half-graben like the Newark Basin. Continents do not breakapart symmetrically. We should explain listric and detachment faults. As forblind thrusts, two words: Northridge 1994. Impact This has been a significantprocess on earth even in the Phanerozoic, and ubiquitous on other bodies in theSolar System. A good explanation of impact processes is essential.
This is how we unravel the histories of evenbadly mangled rocks. It's amazing to map a complex area and watch it make sense.Shouldn't we show students what we can do? Omitting this topic is especiallyinexcusable considering how many texts still include details of foldnomenclature that were never of much scientific use. I'd rather have studentsunderstand the relationship between foliation and axial surface than be able todefine "recumbent."
A direct attack on pseudoscience is probablyoutside the scope of most texts. I favor a "head 'em off at the pass"approach. If I'm aware of a pseudoscientific argument, I counter it in passing.I note that radioactive isotopes do not change in decay rate even under extremeconditions. I point out that the geologic time scale was established long beforeDarwin. I talk about the Channeled Scablands and point out that realcatastrophes leave absolutely unmistakable evidence. Some explicit discussion ofpseudoscience is desirable. I have had students who found it a revelation thatthere even was such a thing as pseudoscience.
Evolution is founded at least as much in geologyas biology. We should showcase the role geology had in the discovery ofevolution. A frontal attack on creationism would probably turn many students(and textbook adopters) off, but it's possible to address a lot of creationistarguments just in passing. Warning: authors need to read actual creationistliterature carefully so as to address what creationists are really saying andnot merely what we think they're saying. Asking "why can't evolution justbe God's way of creating life?" is on an exact par with trying to discussgeophysics using junior high-school math.
If the earth has a history, so do itslandscapes. Some textbooks cling to outdated classical evolution schemes, othersskirt the subject entirely. A good description of current concepts of landscapeevolution should be in every text. Too many texts discuss bed load and channelgeometry, without relating them to anything else, but omit stream piracy orantecedent drainage. This is an example of a traditional topic that is oftenomitted when in fact it should be retained.
I reject emphatically the commonplace notionthat textbooks are too long. If a Tom Clancy or John Grisham potboiler can run700 pages, a 500-page textbook is hardly unreasonable. Science texts have beenaccused of offering as much vocabulary as some foreign language texts. Speakingas a student of several languages, that is probably less an indictment ofscience for demanding too much than of foreign language teaching for demandingtoo little. Many geoscience terms are merely commonplace terms with somewhatspecialized usage. Just what part of "flood plain", "lavaflow" or "red giant star" is unclear?
In these days of competitiveness and downsizing,there is no Constitutional right to be on the fast track. I do not thinklearning, and remembering, a few thousand terms over four years is too high aprice to pay for access to a better career. There is always less room at the topthan there are people who want to be there, and I think our society has aperfect right to reserve the best careers for people who demonstrate a seriouscommitment to personal excellence. Nevertheless, to make room for the new, weeither have to expand texts or throw things out, and here are my criteria forthings to be thrown out.
If we're not going to explain why a term issignificant, we should not bother using it. If we're not going to explain whyrocks are classified the way they are, why bother with rock names at all? If wedon't explain clearly why we classify rocks as igneous, sedimentary andmetamorphic, as opposed to gray, brown, and white, or big, medium and little,why mention the terms at all?
How do we know there were ice ages? How do weknow plate tectonics works? How do we know about things that happened in thedistant past, or processes with very slow rates, or extremely rare processes?Students are often quite happy to ignore these issues ("just tell me what Ineed to know for the exam"), but doing so only reinforces the idea thatscience is just some variety of magic. Science is not magic, and to counter themagical nature of popular thinking, we must explain how science actually knowsthings.
I'll start with a heresy from my own field. Ifstudents are not going to do geologically serious calculations, they really donot need to know the terms "stress" and "strain." I wouldkeep "shear" because it is useful in discussing faulting and there isno equivalent everyday term.
Elaborate fold description systems were anintellectual dead end. I cannot see the slightest reason that non-specialistsneed to know about upright, asymmetrical, overturned and recumbent folds,especially when they often don't learn about decollement, or aboutfold-foliation relationships, which are genuinely useful in the field.
The only luster distinction that really countsis that between metallic and non-metallic. Metallic luster occurs in metals orsmall band-gap semiconductors, and relates directly to the atomic structure ofthe material (Nassau, 2001). Terms like waxy, resinous, glassy and so on aretrivial and self-explanatory. The same holds for most fracture terms. Mentionconchoidal fracture when you describe obsidian, then forget it. Apart fromhematite and pyrite, how often is a streak test informative?
Pahoehoe and aa have only marginal geologicalsignificance. Glacial terms like horn, arete and tarn are minimally informative,as opposed to moraines and drumlins, which not only indicate the former presenceof a glacier but convey information about its history and movement aswell.
Superposition and cross-cutting relationshipsare variations on a single logical principle (younger phenomena overprint olderones) and don't require two terms, although reviewers reacted violently when Itreated them as a single concept. Unconformity, disconformity, nonconformity andparaconformity are my nominees for the most useless proliferation of terms forthe sheer sake of proliferating terms. I vote to use unconformity as the genericterm for any gap in the geologic record and omit the rest from introductorytexts. If it really matters what kind of hiatus is meant, it should be obviousfrom context.
Correct terminology is important, but only if itimproves understanding. There is no such thing as centrifugal force, butexplaining why we should speak of centripetal force results only in a longdigression that confuses students, results in no improvement in understanding,and usually results in lost time and poorer understanding. I have been heartenedto see a number of recent meteorology and oceanography texts opt for commonsense by ignoring the pedants and simply using the term "centrifugal,"but a chapter reviewer once lambasted a colleague of mine for doing so on adifferent text project.
It is appropriate here to mention the Journal'sown sin in this regard. The former feature Misconceptions - A Column AboutErrors in Geoscience Textbooks ran from 1996 to 2002 without, in my estimation,ever exposing a significant error or contibuting materially to improvingtextbook quality. The vast majority of the "errors" it discussed werepedagogically justified simplifications.
Finally, pedantry begets innumeracy. No unitconversion should be more precise than the original quantity. The correctconversion of "about 150 feet" is 50 meters, not 45.7 meters.
Boxes, perspectives, factoids, chapter prologuesand all the other junk that clutters texts serve only to foster the illusionthat learning is entertainment. A student should be able to summarize a chapteron his or her own, or cover a paragraph with an index card and summarize it. Iseriously doubt that chapter summaries and review questions do the slightestgood. Good students don't need them and poor students don't use themeffectively. Many years ago I put all my exam questions on reserve in thelibrary, and more recently, on-line. My purpose was to level the playing fieldand negate the perceived (not real) advantage of old exams. The performance ofthe weaker students has gone down since then. A glossary is rarely necessary ifstudents learn the terms as they encounter them. About a quarter of a typicaltextbook is devoted to extras that merely encourage poor study habits.
In our text we had chapters, then we hadprologues and chapter summaries so students didn't have to read the chapters,then we had a Study Guide so students didn't have to read the text at all, andwe had an Instructor's Manual so instructors didn't have to read the text. In mydarker moments, I see the day coming when we dispense with texts entirely andsimply put covers on old telephone books, which the students will return at theend of the semester with shrink-wrap intact for maximum resale value.
Certain topics are often introduced in texts forcompleteness or to satisfy reviewers but then short-changed for reasons ofbrevity. Often the result is an isolated term or concept with no apparentpurpose except to show up on the exam.
These rocks can beall but indistinguishable from basalt and gabbro in hand specimen and are oftenhard to tell apart in thin section. Their exact definition is chemical and theirsignificance is chemical; they have been modified by passing through continentalcrust. If we want them in a text, then we need enough petrochemistry to explainwhy it is important to tell them from basalt and gabbro.
Includeformulas only if they will be used to derive a result. Otherwise forget them.Darcy's Law seems to be the most commonly abused formula in this regard. Itseems to be stuck in most texts to show that geologists use mathematics. Ifwe're not going to do an actual ground-water calculation (and that will meanshowing exactly how we determine the permeability of an aquifer), why includethe formula? I did use the formula for kinetic energy in my discussion ofimpact, but in the context of a discussion showing that objects at typicalimpact velocities have enormous energy.
I have never seen an introductory text do anything meaningful withthese concepts. They are described in a perfunctory fashion, then forgotten.What, exactly, do these concepts contribute to a student's understanding ofhydrology?
I have discovered that crystallography andcolor in minerals simply cannot be covered well given the length constraints ofan introductory textbook. I have never seen an introductory text that did aproper job on crystals, and having tried to do it myself, I know why. It justcan't be done without doubling the length of the chapter. I also tried in earlydrafts to describe some of the reasons minerals have color. Although theresearch is fascinating (Nassau, 2001), it gets too deep into physics to beeasily accessible to introductory students.
In my decade of dealing with publishers, I met people of all sorts. In generalthe production staff, illustrators and photo researchers were highlyprofessional and a delight to work with. One editor was a consummateprofessional, but another, who unfortunately made some key decisions late in thepublication process, embodied the worst in corporate cravenness. A single badeditor or reviewer can effectively neuter a good textbook, because marketers areso sensitive to the risk of lost sales that the slightest hint of difficulty orexcessive length will cause them to demand revisions.
The paranoia I encounteredover perceptions of difficulty often was ludicrous. I had a diagram of thecrustal abundances of the eight most abundant elements, with a blowup showingthe next dozen or so. The blowup was deleted. There was no constructive reasonfor doing so, except that it made the illustration "simpler" andpresumably less threatening to students. Similarly, I lost a battle to include abox listing the modern soil orders. The box would have been marginal material tobe included or not as the instructor chose, but it created too much perceptionof difficulty.
Surely the most bizarre incident came as I was writing thepreface. I noted that many students collect disconnected tidbits of fact likeGilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major General. That reference caused ripples ofconcern among the editors that it might go over students' heads. I argued thatstudents do not read prefaces, and even instructors rarely do. I wouldn't havebeen reading the Preface myself if I hadn't been writing it. I held one lastargument in reserve. There is a cartoon show called Animaniacs that does aparody called I am the Very Model of a Cartoon Individual. We were perilouslyclose to going on public record as demanding a lower level of literacy thanSaturday morning cartoons. Fortunately, the preface stood as written.
Perhapsthe most disheartening change involved a graphic design. I illustrated a"system" by a simple diagram showing gears, pulleys, and a powersource. I used gears to symbolize the interconnected elements of a system andpulleys to indicate connections to other systems. My idea was to carry thissymbolism throughout the text to illustrate various earth systems. I wasconcerned that some people might object that it was too complex or toomechanical and sterile, but I got few negative comments and began to becomeoptimistic about its eventual adoption. Then, during production, the publisherdecided to eliminate it. They were concerned it might alienate female students.What a marvelous way to encourage women to enter science - by fostering thestereotype that women can't handle technology!
It took some time for me to learnhow to resist or subvert pressures to dilute content. One simple but effectivestratagem is to nod agreeably, then ignore as many of the most egregious demandsas you can get away with. Also, publishing is a very fluid industry and peoplemove around a lot. A project will pass through many hands before completion(thanks to corporate mergers, I have one textbook but three publishers). Eachhand-off is an opportunity to insert improvements or undo some of the damageforced on you by previous reviewers or editors.
Realistically, contemporary textbooks are pretty good. The facts areaccurate and the traditional organization makes sense. They have a monotonoussameness for two very good reasons: they work and they sell. Since publishersknow that existing texts will sell, what's their incentive to experiment withradically different pedagogies? Would you adopt a textbook organized verydifferently from existing products? "Maybe" or "it depends"is not an acceptable answer! Publishers know they can sell traditional books.Why should they accept the risk of selling an unorthodox text when they can havethe near certainty of successfully marketing a conventional one?
The quality oftextbooks will not change until publishers sense a powerful enough market demandto offset their ingrained fear of unorthodoxy. If you want to see more rigorous,up-to-date and interesting textbooks, I suggest the following:
Steven I. Dutch received his B.A. from the University ofCalifornia at Berkeley in 1969 and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1976,both in geology, and has taught earth science at the University ofWisconsin-Green Bay since 1976. His research interests include the Precambrianof the Great Lakes region, impact phenomena, pseudoscience, and computerapplications in geoscience education.
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