Tag Archives: textbooks

The Problem with textbooks

Few people outside of the field of education are aware of what has happened to the textbook industry. A small percentage of parents who take an active role in their children’s education have some idea, and perhaps some politicians who are involved  in education know a bit as well. While many in academia see the downward spiral of textbook quality, few are speaking out about it.

The trends in textbook publishing affect all levels of education, from preschool to postgraduate studies. Public and private schools, rich and poor, urban and rural, all draw from the same pool of textbooks. They have little choice in the matter; the textbook industry has gone through the same relentless wave of consolidation as almost every other industry over the past few decades.

The textbooks I am most familiar with are ESL (English as a second language) books since that is the subject I am currently teaching. However, I have looked closely at my students’ textbooks for their biology, physics, chemistry, history, and health classes, and I see the same design and content changes occurring everywhere.

First, the overall dumbing down of the texts is undeniable. One rarely encounters a word that requires  a dictionary to understand. In the secondary school texts, the lexical, grammatical, and syntactical level seems to be stuck at around the 6th grade. At the university level, it’s not much better.

Much of the content presented in modern textbooks is thinly disguised corporate propaganda. Textbook publishers are reluctant to divulge how much of textbook content is taken directly from corporate sources, but we can be sure it is substantial. Corporations are known to write entire and complete legislative bills which they hand to congress for approval.  Corporate lobbyists write speeches for politicians. Transnational corporations now control everything of value on the planet, so it follows that they are writing textbooks as well. Some of this corporate propaganda is subtle and woven into the content unobtrusively.  In some chapters, the propaganda is more blatant, such as when biology texts discuss GMOs. Monsanto definitely has its dirty hands in the education field.

Besides the obvious propaganda pushing GMOs , Darwinian evolution, quantum physics, and space exploration, there’s also the social engineering type of brainwashing. This includes the celebration of rampant consumerism, transgenderism, homosexuality, multiculturalism, hi-tech, celebrity culture, shopping, social media, and general superficiality. Parents who have not looked at an English textbook for 20 or 30 years would  be appalled at what they see. Nearly every page of the ESL text which I used for a recent course discussed one of those subjects. Consumerism and high-tech gadgets such as smartphones are especially popular topics for learning. The not-so-subtle message being taught to students, outside of the embedded grammar lesson, is this: The only meaning you can derive from life is through shopping, consumerism, acquisition, and the acceptance of a multicultural and inclusive world. The only pictures one sees on the pages are photos of models,  smiling and joyful in their sleek modern offices, making loads of money which they will spend in fancy restaurants and department stores.  Traditional families are absent. Pictures of rural life are nearly absent as well. The world is presented as one giant playground, basically. It’s filled with exciting and exotic cities which  you can visit on your next ‘holiday,’ and return home with giant shopping bags filled with the loot you collected overseas. Oh, the joys of being a yuppie! That, essentially, is the dream being sold. Everyone can be a rich yuppie, living in a high-rise in some ‘bustling’ metropolis.

Every page of modern textbooks must have a photo. On some pages, more than 50 percent of the total space is filled with photos. The people in the photos are utterly fake. Most of them are models. They looks about as real as a GMO tomato. They’re always smiling and laughing, of course. They’re always attractive. They always seem to be on holiday. They’re usually talking on their smartphones and striding confidently to their next high-powered business meeting.

Do these photos contribute anything to the lesson being taught? Do they enhance the subject matter or clarify important points? No, they do not, not in the least. They’re just filler. Publishers insert them because they claim that students will not look at a page filled only with text. Actually, the publishers are correct when they state this. I once gave my students a book to read. It had no pictures. They gasped audibly and complained loudly and bitterly to me. How could they possibly read a book with no pictures? It would be so boring….

We must ask, though, how our kids became so frightened and/or bored with a page of text. Television and computers deserve the bulk of the blame, but parents and educators have done too little to instill a love of reading to students. Education publishers help to create this problem, and then turn around and state that they are merely responding to market demand.

The hundreds or thousands of photos placed into a typical textbook today drives up the cost of the text enormously. The expensive and glossy paper on which the photos are placed is considerably more pricy that simple paper for text. Moreover, it’s not just lots of unnecessary, ugly, and fake photos that one sees on textbook pages. Graphic designers now play a role even more important than content writers. Every page must be a different color. Oh, yes. Pages must be multi-hued with flashy background themes. Black text on white background, white text on black background, green on black, blue on yellow-whatever. Every page must now resemble a website. Many pages are so repulsive to look at that I ignore them when working through a chapter. I don’t want my students to look at something so ugly and so manipulative.

Students coming up through the system today have no idea that textbooks used to be different. With their immaturity and lack of perspective, they naturally assume that things have always been this way. They are unaware that students used to read books with no pictures! And sometimes those books were hundreds of pages long, and filled with highly technical details.

In conclusion, I regard modern textbooks as abominations. They are filled to overflowing with shameless propaganda, touting GMOs and transhumanism, among other things. Their slick and glossy pages, designed by well-paid graphic designers, are all about style, not substance. Content has now receded into the background. Actual text now coves less than half of most pages and the lessons are presented in small doses so as not to stretch students’ minds too much.



My problem(s) with British English

I don’t like British English. Only in the last couple of years did I realize this. I was born and raised in the United States and wasn’t exposed to much British English during my time there; besides watching the occasional Monty Python movie, BBC documentary or BBC newscast, I heard and read little of it.

However, my circumstances have changed. I am currently  teaching English as a second language in Southeast Asia, and my daily exposure to British English has caused me to form some strong opinions about it. This exposure comes in two forms: 1) the local media and 2) the British  ESL textbooks which most, if not all, language centers in Asia use.

The various print media in Asia , including newspapers and magazines, are always written using British spelling and the British lexicon. The ESL textbooks are often printed by Cambridge or Oxford University Presses. If not, they are  printed by  giant publishing houses such as MacMillan (British) and Pearson PLC (British).

Journalists and writers working in Asia use, presumbably, the Oxford Style Manual when composing their articles. They certainly are not using the Associated Press Stylebook or the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Hence, when I am perusing the daily newspapers in Saigon, Phnom Penh, or Bangkok, I always read about ‘labour’ disputes, ‘tonnes’ of rice, and ‘programmes.’

This, then,  is my first major complaint with British English: the spelling. Why do the Brits insist on doing stupid things like adding unnecessary letters to words? Program is just fine as it is. It does not require or need an extra m or e to make it more official sounding. It’s the same situation with ton. T-O-N. It’s simple, direct, and to-the-point. Yet, the Brits want to glop on an n and an e to this word as well. And what is with the equally irritating habit of inserting unnecessary u’s into otherwise functional words such as labor, color, neighbor, and favor? I once had a British colleague here tell me that the extra u ‘softened’ the words. Give me a break.

The list of British English words that are spelled nonsensically is too long to list here. However, it should be noted that it is, indeed, a long list. Why spell complection as complexion? That just looks wrong. Where else do we put an ‘x’ into the middle of a word like that?

The British take logically spelled words like center, fiber, theater and liter and insist on transposing the e and r which makes them look retarded. Last week, I came across one of those glossy travel mags that are often left lying around in 4- and 5-star resorts. It was titled ‘Traveller.’ I had to blink to make sure I was reading it correctly. My first thought was, “Is that possibly a typo?” I mean, that’s not how traveler is spelled. But then the idea hit me: “Is that some stupid alternative British spelling?” I looked it up online and sure enough, adding an extra ‘l’ to words like that is standard practice in the British Isles. Thanks, Oxford and Cambridge.

It gets worse. Words like maneuver and estrogen are bludgeoned  with extra o’s in Brit-land. Just look at this word: manoeuvre. Does that look correct? Yes, I know we stole that one from the French, but we are using English, so let’s use the spelling that makes the most sense and reflects how we pronounce it.

British slang words and phrases are equally tiresome. This too is a long list. Let’s begin with one of the worst- knickers. Does that word conjure an image of something colorful, silky, and sexy under a woman’s skirt? No, not at all. The word panty however does conjure that image. Score one for the Americans.

A Brit might say, “What about the word herb? You Americans, for no logical reason, don’t pronounce the h while we do. Now who’s the silly one?”   It’s a fair observation, but I’m inclined to think the hippies (American)  had a hand in this one. You see, hippies have for a long time used herb as a synonym for marijuana. Every day at 4:20 p.m., they sit down and say, “It’s time to smoke some herb (silent h).  Any hippie will tell you that word rolls off the tongue  so much more smoothly when the hard h is dropped. ‘Erb’ just sounds sexier than Herb. So even here, Americans have been on the right track.

If you live in a room, or group of rooms, inside a building, then you live in an apartment. It’s not a ‘flat.’ That word is properly used to mean ‘level.’ If I am interested in something, then I am, well, interested in it. I am most certainly not keen on it. If I am really interested, then I might say that I am excited about it.

When I was growing up, the word brilliant always meant ‘having or showing great intelligence.’ However, it seems that over the decades more and more meanings have been attached to this overused word, thanks to our British friends who love to use it like confetti: a brilliant goal, a brilliant show, etc. In these circumstances, there’s always a better, more precise word to use in the context, if they would but try.

The loathsome recent trend of saying ‘sorry’ whenever ‘excuse me’ used to suffice must have been started in Great Britain. There’s no way brusque and direct Americans would initiate such a tortured  assault on meaning. Hell, they’re even teaching this now in textbooks!  Seriously. Chapters that teach phone manners, social gatherings and such state that when you interrupt, ask directions, or bump into somebody, you should say ‘sorry’ instead of ‘excuse me.’

Hey Brits, percent is one word, not two. It’s a synonym for percentage, you know. I don’t care if the dictionary says that both spellings are acceptable. The American usage is better and more commonsensical, as usual. And finally, the woman who gave birth to you is your Mom, not your Mum.  Listen to a baby calling for his mama. It sounds like MOM-A, never like MUM-A.  Let’s keep the word Mum with its proper meaning- silent.




The destruction of language

In December of 2014, I wrote an article about the destruction of language and grammar. Since that time, the trend has accelerated. Wherever we look- in newspapers, magazines, blogs, emails, textbooks, novels, and everyday conversation- we can observe the rapid disintegration of the ability to use the English language with any degree of facility, fluency, and grammatical correctness.

The English language is under attack from many directions. From the top, it is under assault from the ruling powers, commonly known as the NWO. Their agenda is clear: dumb down the masses by inverting and changing the meaning of words and muddle people’s brains by making a mishmash of all accepted grammatical rules. Since they control all of the media, their power and influence to carry out such an agenda is considerable. Hence, whenever you read a story from any large news organization,  it is quite easy to see the actual workings of this plan. The paragraph form has now almost completely disappeared from news articles, replaced by one and two sentence snippets. Any academic words above a third grade level have been excised, replaced with simple and easy-to-understand words and phrases which will require no one to consult a dictionary.

Academia has been thoroughly and definitively infiltrated and compromised by these same elites and interests. The written word, which formerly constituted 99 percent  of textbooks, now occupies, at best, only half of the course book. The  other 50 percent is now taken up with color photos, mostly of celebrities. What little text there is does nothing to challenge readers.



English is also being worn away from below. English is, for better or worse, the lingua franca of our time. All over the world, English is being learned by native speakers of hundreds of different languages. The vast majority of these students attain only an advanced beginner or intermediate level of speaking and writing. Before they have mastered the use of all of the verb tenses, the paragraph, cohesion, and coherency, they are using what they know in the real world. These non-native speakers combine their limited grasp of grammar with the slang, colloquialisms, and texting / internet lingo they pick up from the media and friends.

Though the attacks from above and below would probably be sufficient to complete the annihilation of English, there are other powerful forces  that we must contend with: tech gadgets such as smartphones and social media. It would be impossible to overstate the damage that has been inflicted upon language and grammar from smartphones, Facebook, twitter, and texting.

Smartphones, tablets, and all touchscreen devices by their very nature discourage not only academic and literary writing but also any coherent thinking whatsoever. How can one construct a detailed and persuasive letter or essay by typing with their thumbs on a flat screen? It simply can’t be done. The technology itself ensures that.

Facebook provided the initial impetus for people to jettison grammar rules and proper punctuation when posting comments. Everyone began to throw up quick comments on their friends’ walls without bothering to check if it looked or sounded correct. Twitter was the final nail in the coffin. Just as touch screen technology actively discourages long, careful, and disciplined writing, Twitter forbids it. Since only a limited number of characters are allowed, subjects, prepositions, adverbs and more must be thrown by the wayside. Pronoun  subjects  have  suffered a death blow from Twitter. Nowadays, instead of “I was elated at the news of his marriage,” we have “Elated. Great news.”  This TwitterEnglish has now  insidiously permeated into many other forms of written language.  More and more, I notice that when my friends and family send me emails, they omit the subject from the majority of their sentences. Typically, the emails  read like this: “Went to the store yesterday. Saw an old friend. Came home late. Considering a vacation out West this year. Worried about my friend…” etc.



Finally, we must also mention YouTube. If you want to see just how far down the destruction of language can go, simply spend a few minutes reading the comments of any popular YouTube video. Every time I think a nadir has been reached, the bottom falls out and it plunges down further still. Probably the most prevalent comment on YouTube is ‘U r an idiot. LOL.’  I’ve been wondering lately if all of the comments like that are from real flesh and blood readers and how many are produced by paid trolls at Langley, Virginia and computer programs. That may sound far-fetched, but it shouldn’t. The NWO wants to discourage, by all means possible, rational dialogue and real, honest discourse. Why wouldn’t they be active on YouTube, dropping millions of dopey and insulting comments, thereby dragging down the overall level of communication and discouraging people from talking to one another?




Dissecting more techno cheerleaders in the media. Case study: the iPad in classrooms

For writers, bloggers  and so-called journalists working in the media today, playing to the prejudices of their readers is part of their job. This is especially true for journalists and columnists who write about technology. When your readership consists of people who own a smartphone (or two), a tablet, and a laptop, reminding them that they are ‘cool,’  and ‘cutting edge’ will earn you a loyal following.

Let’s examine a recent article from the same glossy magazine which we looked at in my previous article. The author is a grade 2 homeroom teacher at a well-known international school in Ho Chi Minh City. The article is only six paragraphs long. The editors could have made it longer but chose to use one third of the page to post a color photo of a seven-year-old girl with a huge smile on her face holding an Ipad. We haven’t even gotten to the first sentence and already we know what direction the article is going to take. The upper right hand corner of the page has a professional photo of the author, an attractive woman in her 20s with perfect teeth who is smiling broadly. We, the readers, have been set up nicely to drink the  kool-aid which is being served.

The title of the article is “Techie Students- How tablets have enhanced learning.” The author wastes no time establishing her thesis which she posits clearly in the first sentence, stating…”using iPads in the classroom has been ideal for promoting new ways of learning.” Hmm,’promoting new ways of learning.’ That’s a big statement. She claims that the iPad is not just a tool which can be used in addition to books, but that it helps us learn in new ways.  If she means that all the lessons can now be given on the computer with bright flashing graphics, cartoon characters, and games, than I guess that qualifies.

The following sentence reads like an advertisement from Apple: “The iPad is a perfect digital tool for our young learners because it’s small, portable, visual, and hands-on..” Hey, this woman could be a sales rep. The author goes on to say that she avoids using it as a form of entertainment but rather as a way to empower her students to channel their interests and for ‘discovery, creation and collaborative learning.’ That’s wonderful, but can’t all of those things be done just as well without iPads or computers? Can’t you ‘discover’ things in books? Do you need a computer to create something beautiful and meaningful? All you need to create is a pencil and piece of paper. Or a canvas and paintbrushes. Or an instrument.

It gets worse. The author claims that ‘the tablets are excellent for developing research skills.’ No, they aren’t. Tablets do not develop research skills. I also work with ‘young learners’ and I can tell you that their research skills are generally very deficient, in spite of the fact that they spend hours per day on computers. Punching in a search term on google does not qualify as ‘research skills.’ Here’s how most students today do ‘research’ : They enter a term on google. They quickly choose either the first or second entry that appears on the screen, rarely even scrolling to the bottom of the page and practically never going beyond page one of search results. They don’t know how to distinguish between different sources and none of them understand that wikipedia is  fallible and biased.

Checking their Facebook in lecture hall:


I’m only on the third paragraph but the writer’s insipid line of reasoning and her ‘rah-rah’ cheerleading for the the techno-school has left me somewhere between complete boredom and frustration. Check out this line: “Less cumbersome and more effective than dictionaries, we often use google translate or google images when coming across unknown words or concepts.” Is she kidding? A dictionary is ‘cumbersome?’ Actually, looking up words in dictionaries utilizes ancillary skills and often will lead students to other unfamiliar words as they are flipping through the pages. Punching in a word on google requires you to use far less of your brain  than looking it up in a dictionary, but this clueless teacher is so caught up in her flashing lights of her screens that she can’t see that. And Google Translate? If this teacher has really  used it, then she must know that the translations between languages are often horribly wrong. She’s teaching her students that google is God. She claims that she is ’empowering’ them, when what she is really doing is making them into little robotic consumers of digital garbage.

The author claims her grade 2 students are becoming ‘independent in their learning.’ Wow. I’ve read somewhere that Mozart was independent in his learning when he was seven years old, but that’s the only example I can think of. What does this woman think her students are going to do when teacher is not around? Do research on the causes of the French Revolution? No. They will play computer games or go into Facebook. Surely she knows that and we the readers know that, but she thinks her audience is so stupid that she can throw out this drivel and nobody will call her on it.

Who needs books?


Techno teacher then tells us that she has her students make movies during class time using iMovie. The students even made a zombie movie! Yippee! After hyping iMovie, she then goes on to hype another app, this one called ‘Comic Life.’ You can guess where this is all leading.

This article is about as one-sided as you can get. It, and so many similar articles in the media, pitch the argument that ‘technology is great.’ Also, ‘technology enhances learning.’ And most of all, ‘technology empowers people.’

Since most parents today buy their young children smart phones and tablets by the time they are able to walk, the author is simply cozying up to them and telling them that they are doing the right thing. Furthermore, the school is staying at the cutting edge by ‘utilizing the latest technology in the classroom.’  Digital content and techno learning has not made us any smarter and never will. I suggest the author obtain a copy of “The Dumbest Generation” by  Mark Bauerlein and carefully read it before she writes any more articles.



Dissecting the techno cheerleaders in the media

Humanity is on an inexorable march towards transhumanism. Led by the likes of ‘futurist’ Ray Kurzweil, the transhumanist propaganda machine utilizes the media to its full potential  and employs a small army of writers, bloggers, and media personalities. A big part of this propaganda push is to continually hammer home a number of themes, such as technological progress is always positive (or at least that the benefits always outweigh the negative consequences). In close tandem with this notion is the idea that anyone who opposes the new is better paradigm is an old-fashioned, out-of-touch fuddy-duddy.

The relentlessly upbeat cheerleading that accompanies articles about technology, especially stories discussing the release of updated smartphones and related gadgets, can be seen in all mass market magazines and newspapers. There is no subtlety or nuance in most of these articles, no shades of grey.

Let’s examine a recent article in the mass media to see how this brainwashing works. The article is titled, oddly enough, “The Idiot Box,” and I found it in a glossy magazine marketed to wealthy expatriates in Southeast Asia. The author, some guy named Michael Arnold, opines that modern technological gadgets such as the Ipad are great for kids because they give them unlimited knowledge at their fingertips. Arnold tries, quite awkwardly and unconvincingly, to knit the history of  television into his argument and even manages to throw out the epithet ‘luddite’ to discredit people who question the transhumanist juggernaut.

The author begins by stating that he finds arguments against humanity’s overreliance on technology to be not ‘particularly compelling.’ He then goes on to say that arguments against the Ipad are the same arguments used against the personal computer, the world wide web and the television. The inference here is that since all those inventions have turned out so wonderfully for humanity, why worry about putting Ipads into the hands of five-year-olds?

According to Arnold, we humans have not become too reliant on machines and technology and in fact we need more!  Perhaps he missed the story last week of the guy who drove his car off a cliff because he was using his GPS instead of his eyes, a map, and common sense. Or maybe he missed the story of the three men who have died recently in Taiwan after gaming for  days in internet cafes without food, drink, or water. He hasn’t  noticed stories  of kids around the world who literally go into severe withdrawal when their digital toys are taken from them? Perhaps he hasn’t  seen, as I have, people who cannot sleep at night unless the television screen is playing in front of their bed. Did he not catch the recent story from China  which stated that the Chinese government has recognized internet addiction as one of the most serious crises facing the youth of China and has taken measures to combat it, including setting up treatment centers for hooked teenagers?

Arnold says that those of us who question the technological juggernaut have a ‘fear of change’ and since change is the defining characteristic of our age, we need to get over it. Indeed, change does define the 20th century, but this change didn’t just happen by accident. It was planned, and the results of that change have been the destruction of the family and the disintegration of society.

The next paragraph is where Mr. Arnold really outs himself. He writes that parents who ban television in the home are ‘extreme’ and that television was ‘the greatest medium of communication’ of our parents’ age. Television, according to Arnold, gave us ‘unprecedented exposure to human drama, stories with actual morals, and information about the outside world.’ What’s more, those silly cartoons taught him ‘how to have the strength to forgive.’ Now, I don’t know if  he really believes all this or if he is just reading from a template, but this is naive and absurd beyond belief. Does Mr. Arnold know who really invented television, and for what purposes? Does he know anything about Walt Disney and his shady background, including his links to Intelligence and occult societies?  Has he not read Aldous Huxley, Neil Postman, or Jerry Mander? Does he know who Edward Bernays was?

Arnold then blithely states that ‘rather less credence is given to the demonization of television nowadays.’ Oh, really? And from where did he pull that fact? Actually, the evidence demonstrating the destructive influence of television is far greater and more compelling than it was 50 years ago when intellectuals and concerned parents were complaining about it.

Now that his mask is off, Arnold cannot help himself and starts to really lay it on thick, gleefully stating that we (the television generation) are ‘eager for our kids to enjoy the kind of quality entertainment we remember having back then.’ Wow. Quality entertainment?? What is this guy talking about?

He doesn’t wish for his kids to spend their time reading the classics, or going to museums, or playing outside, or doing sports, or hiking in nature. Instead, he wants them inside watching reruns of ‘quality’ entertainment, such as Happy Days and Starsky and Hutch. 


No, they’re not doing math or reading biology. They’re playing games. Sorry, parents.


I would love to send the author a copy of Mark Bauerlein’s 2009 book titled The Dumbest Generation, in which he thoroughly demolishes the argument put forward by techno enthusiasts that Ipads, computers, and smart phones make kids smarter and improve their academic performance.

Finally, Arnold relates the story of Steve Jobs not allowing his kids to play with the Ipad. To mention this story is a risky move , as it might blow a hole in his ‘tech gadgets are cool’ argument. He spins it my calling Jobs a ‘notorious hippie,’ and then, in a bizarre turn of logic, casts himself as risk taker by allowing his kids to use these devices. Come again? Let’s see if we can wrap our brains around that one. Arnold says that he is not following the example set by Jobs, and is therefore going his own way. He’s a conformist, but kind of a rebel at the same time. Get it?

In fact, this guy is doing what 99.99 percent of all parents are doing nowadays: letting their kids run loose with tech gadgets from  infancy onwards and hoping for the best. Arnold and people like him are the worst kind of spineless conformists, cloaking their naivete, ignorance  and cowardice in a thin veneer of pseudo-intellectualism.


Choosing a major: Avoiding the banking and marketing trap

Choosing a major is one of the most difficult decisions a young adult must make.  For an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old, it is often an overwhelming task, fraught with anxiety. Few teenagers know what they want to do with the rest of their life. Faced with such uncertainty and ignorance, kids turn to parents, relatives and counselors to help them make a decision.

Unfortunately for these kids, much of the advice they are given from well-meaning adults is not in their best interest, and far too often leads them into fields for which they are ill-fitted and in which they will be unhappy.  Parents are prone to forcing their children into majors which they have heard are ‘hot’ fields and will lead their offspring into lucrative careers upon graduation.

These days, especially here in Asia, those ‘hot’ fields are banking/finance and advertising/marketing.  The vast majority -over 80 percent- of the young adults I have met who are attending university tell me they are majoring in these fields. Of the remaining, fifteen percent, most are in business school or economics.  In America, the figures are probably comparable.


So how this trend bode for those kids and the countries in which they will soon be working? Clearly, these kids did not grow up saying to their peers, “some day I dream of being a banker.”  Nor did they play football in the playground and confide to their playmates, “you know, I dream of working for a giant transnational, helping them boost their bottom line by a few billion by creating a clever marketing scheme.”

Dreams and idealism are drummed out of kids at a very early age now. In Asia, where wealthy parents spend a fortune for their children on private education, bi-lingual  schooling, preparatory courses, private tutoring and extra-curricular activities, the thought of their child choosing any career other than those fields above is  unthinkable. After throwing down 100,000 USD on education, there better be a good job and paycheck waiting at the end.


However, funneling so many kids into these fields will be disastrous. For the kids themselves, the vast majority will be disillusioned. The smorgasbord of jobs they fancy waiting for them will not be there. The jobs that are available will not be the super lucrative ones they imagined, and they will spend their lives working behind a desk, shuffling papers and selling their souls to a faceless and heartless corporation.

For the society and country in which they live, the consequences are even worse. Countries and economies need well-trained college graduates in a wide variety of fields. We need trained wildlife biologists, water resource managers, early childhood educators,  oceanographers, urban gardeners, astronomers, permaculture designers, urban planners, historians, artists, journalists, engineers, nurses, mechanics, and chefs. And poets.

We need to be honest with the kids and ourselves: bankers and marketers produce nothing for society. Actually, it’s worse than that. They literally suck the lifeblood from an economy, misdirecting people’s energy, money, and wealth. As an educator, I have seen far too often parents and teachers speaking from two sides of their mouths. First, we tell them, “follow your dreams.”  Then we turn around and not so subtly nudge them into these  careers in banking and marketing and turn them into little corporate drones, while telling them to “be practical.”


There are ways to survive, and even thrive, in this world outside of the narrow paradigm of a university education geared toward a career in big business. But those ‘alternative’ methods require a lot of thinking outside the box, experimentation, risk, and some creativity, not to mention a lot of support from family and peers. Few teachers and relatives of our youth are equipped to guide them in another direction, and  choose the safe routes of recommending university education. Having traveled the conformist path themselves their whole life, they can hardly be expected to counsel kids to do otherwise.

There are numerous ways to work for oneself, and the age of the internet has opened up enormous opportunities for those with the courage, determination and energy to manifest their dream. As teachers and educators, we cannot simply tell kids to ‘follow their dreams’ and then turn around and walk away. We have to model it and give them practical know-how on how to do it. 


The textbook industry: bad as ever

When I was a student at the University of Texas in the mid 1980s, the  ritual I dreaded the most was my twice yearly trip to the university bookstore to purchase my textbooks for the upcoming semester. I had learned quickly during my freshman year how expensive textbooks were and as the semesters wore on, I became increasingly frustrated and enraged at what I felt was a scam, perpetrated at the expense of poor students who were being coerced into paying inflated prices.


When I complained about the costs, nobody wanted to take responsibility. The campus store manager said they  charged only a small markup from what they paid the publisher. The professors claimed there was nothing they could do. Talking to school administrators was a dead-end. The publishing companies themselves had corporate offices located in far away cities and states.




It has been 30 years since I entered university and to my dismay the practice of producing, publishing and selling overpriced textbooks to unwilling and helpless students continues unabated. In fact, the situation today is even worse than it was back then, with students paying exorbitantly high prices for texts,compounding  high tuition prices and fees.

Textbook prices have increased a whopping 812 percent since 1978, surpassing the rise in health costs (575 percent), home prices (325 percent) and inflation (250 percent). The GAO, in a 2005 report, found that textbook prices increased 6 percent a year for the last two decades. College students now pay, on average, $1,200 per year on texts. This is unconscionable. The fact that this scam has been going on for so long and that nobody appears willing or able to actually do something about it speaks volumes about the state of education in the U.S.A. Furthermore, the publishing companies routinely charge American students substantially more than students in Canada and the UK are charged for the same text.


The main villain in this drama is the educational publishing industry; the big players are Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw- Hill , Pearson and Wiley’s. The industry is concentrated and has been undergoing substantial consolidation, reflecting the consolidation in the global media industry. The five largest companies represent 80 percent of the educational publishing  market. These companies are doing quite well within this current paradigm; McGraw-Hill’s profit margin was 25 percent, Wiley’s was 15 percent and Pearson’s 10 percent. Taken as a whole, the print publishing business for the education industry was worth over $13 billion last year.

Given these figures, these companies have no incentive to change or alter their practices and students, as usual, are caught in a vice grip. Students must often choose where to cut corners, and that can often mean going without food or being late on rent. With the publishing companies, professors, and universities working within a tradition bound and inflexible structure, nothing will change unless A) students figure a way to become organized and go on a general strike or B) political leaders at the state and national level enact strict laws and guidelines to reign in the McGraw-Hills of this world. Neither seems likely.



Given the extent that the internet has changed so many facets of society, the fact that college students are not allowed, in most cases, to download free content for courses is shameful. There are signs that this is changing, but for poor students, the change cannot come fast enough. Open Text Book, founded by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Flat World Knowledge, Boundless, and Chegg are all examples of this move toward free and open knowledge sharing.

I am a teacher and I use textbooks in my courses. I don’t like textbooks in general. It’s not just that they are  boring, inaccurate and written with a corporate slant, but that they are so often completely unnecessary. How did we arrive at this point where learning and education have become so intertwined with the notion of textbooks? Not too long ago, there were no such things and teachers used original source materials and their own minds to educate their students. Textbooks encourage lazy thinking in both professors and students. One way to combat these huge conglomerates is to simply do away with them altogether, whenever possible.









Advice for a college freshman

My niece has recently begun her matriculation at a large state university and this fact has brought back memories of my first year of university back in 1984. I also attended a large state school, numbering some 50,000 undergraduate students with 10,000 more graduate students.

I had attended an academically rigorous private high school and the coursework at the university was no more challenging than what I had already suffered through. However, like many 18-year-olds leaving home for the first time, I was emotionally and psychologically unprepared for many aspects of college life. The first year, and especially the first semester, were extremely difficult for me, as I struggled with loneliness, despair and depression.


Here are some tips for my niece and other college freshmen undertaking the university path:

1) Attend class. Really, it was amazing to watch the students in my classes gradually drop away as the semesters progressed. Class attendance seemed to decrease by 5% each week until only 50% of the students showed up on any given day. Teenagers and young adults  given an amount of freedom that they were not used to  often resulted in apathetic attitudes toward classes. Obtaining a baccalaureate degree is not that difficult, and going to class is the first and foremost requirement to achieving your goal. Hung over? Tired? Bored? Suck it up and go to class.

_ACADEMIC LIFE_College Counseling

2) Find a good counselor. During my four years, I had someone who I could ask specific questions about classes and prerequisites and so forth, but nobody who got to know me well and could truly advise me regarding my strengths, weaknesses, abilities and desires. A good counselor will not be shy about telling you, “Perhaps you should consider another  major,” even into your sophomore or junior year.

Don’t feel embarrassed about changing your major.  Few people are clear about the goals and direction in life at that age. I could have, and probably should have, changed my major, but stick with it for the wrong reasons.

3) Attend summer classes at least once. The pace is accelerated and it is intense, but not unbearably so. You will get ahead of where you should be, or perhaps catch up if you have fallen behind in your goal to graduate in four years. Furthermore, the smaller class size and faster pace encourage a greater sense of camaraderie with your fellow students and you will make friends in those classes.

4) Study abroad. Go for a year if possible, or one semester if that is all you can manage. Start planning early or time will fly by and the opportunity will pass. All big schools have universities in other countries with which they have partner programs. Choose a country that sounds exotic and which you know little about . It will expand your horizons and enrich your university experience.



5) Have fun, but don’t get caught up with the ‘party crowd.’ Look around you at the wide range of students at big universities. Most of them don’t come from rich families. Some don’t have family members with a college degree. Many are making a big sacrifice to attend college and aren’t there to fool around and party. See the students with their heads bowed over a book at the library at 10:30pm on a Friday night? They understand why they’re there.

6) If you’re concerned about your GPA (and who isn’t?), use the pass/fail option when you need it. When I learned about this during my sophomore year, I exclaimed “hallelujah.” I knew I was going to struggle with some classes, such as French, and when those ‘C’ grades add up, it can drag down your GPA fast.

7) Big universities all have non-credit, informal classes which are offered in whatever available spaces the university has. Take advantage of them! They are usually very affordable, sometimes ridiculously cheap. I think the most I ever paid for an informal class was $40.  I took Karate, yoga, dance, typing, and other great classes with that system and loved every minute.



8) Chat with your professor. You will have classes in which there are 200 or 300 students sitting in an auditorium and if you don’t make the effort, you will never meet the professor. Don’t let this happen. Visit him or her during office hours. Don’t let the professor be just some disembodied voice speaking from a stage.

9) Get an on-campus part time job. I worked for the catering department of the student union. If you are taking a full class load, you won’t have time to work more than 10 or 15 hours a week, but you will make friends and have some extra spending cash.

10) Make friends from other countries. A good way to do this is to live in an international co-op.




There are some classes which almost all freshman and sophomores are funneled into. However, if you can manage to avoid them, try to stay away from:

A) Psychology 101. You will be in class with hundreds of other bored kids, learning from a boring text and listening to a boring teacher. If you are particularly interested in this subject, check out Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” and Jung’s “Man and His Symbols” from the library.

B) Sociology 101. See above.

C) World History 101. This is like learning history from the history channel, only more superficial.

D) American history and American literature. These are hard to get around, but you don’t need a professor for this material anyway. Read Howard Zinn’s  “A people’s history of the United States.” For literature, the only names you need to know are Thoreau, Emerson, Thomas Paine,  Mark Twain, and Robert Frost. Read ‘ Civil Disobedience’ and ‘Walden’ and ‘Leaves of Grass’ by Whitman.

Thoreau. He’s as relevant as ever. 


Now, for the classes you absolutely should take:

A) Art History. The material  is fascinating. If you’re lucky, you will have a professor who is passionate about the subject  and can really bring it alive. I looked forward to this class like few others, and was hooked from the first day.

B) Photography. Few young people today associate the word ‘photography’ with the word ‘art.’ Fewer still have heard of  Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams. This is unfortunate. With each new advancement in the technology of cameras and photography,  and the proliferation of cameras to most of the world’s population, the quality of photography has gone down. Way, way down. First instamatic cameras, then digital cameras, and now camera phones have degraded photography immensely. With the ease of deleting photos and the cheap cost of taking hundreds and thousands of pictures, few people bother to take the time to frame a good photo. Learning to take good photos is fun and  you can develop skills in a short time with a good teacher.

Ansel Adams, Yosemite:



C) Gymnastics. Yes, it’s not just for olympians. If you can learn just two tricks- the backflip and back handspring- as I did, you will be walking on air. Take the plunge and go for it.

D) History of the movies. My university called this class “The Development of the Motion Picture” to make it sound more academic. Whatever. Sit back and learn the tricks of the filmmakers and see who really influenced who and why today’s directors still worship at the shrine of David Lean and Akira Kurosawa.



E) Astronomy.  If I had to choose my favorite course, this may well have been it. I was a tad nervous going in, not knowing if I would need to know a lot of math. I didn’t, and I quickly became swept up into the mysteries of the cosmos. The professor was predictably and irritably scornful of astrology, but that was ok. I took this course in the old days before the hubble telescope. It must be unimaginably better now.