A Textbook Story

One day someone asked me to endorse the textbook for a course that was to be taught to all university freshmen. Okay, I said, but I’d like to go through the book first, just so I knew what it was I was endorsing.

As I flipped through the pages, I was somewhat put off by the incongruous presentation of the material. Not that there was anything egregiously wrong with it, but the chapters felt like they didn’t flow smoothly. I initially shrugged it off. After all, they would have been using some variation of the same textbook, and this did come from a reputable publisher. If that was what the department wanted to use….

Then I discovered something as I tried looking for a chapter listed in the table of contents. I couldn’t find it. Then I discovered why: there were two page numbers listed on each page, one on top and one on the bottom, but they did not match! What the heck was this?!

After some thought, I figured out the mystery of the mismatched page numbers. The book was a patchup of chapters from different books. That explained why the book didn’t flow smoothly. The reputable publisher, in a fit of laziness, pasted those chapters together, including their original page numbers. And then they added new page numbering on top without erasing the old ones. How sloppy!

With a bit of imagination, I put together the story of how such a Frankenstein’s monster of a textbook might be put together. A ‘reputable publisher’ approaches the department with a proposal to write a textbook suited to the students of a course. Instead of an entirely original work — which would take time to write — the ‘reputable publisher’ would commission faculty members to select the best chapters from international textbooks to which they held distribution rights. In addition, faculty members would design exercises for the laboratory component of the course; these would then comprise the ‘original’ part of the book. For their editorial work, the faculty would be paid a modest sum and listed as authors on the cover of the book.

But now, since the department has a book that is uniquely suited to the needs of a particular course — because, after all, the material was selected by their own faculty — wouldn’t it stand to reason that such a book would be…required…for all the students of that course?

You can do some quick math for this hypothetical situation. Assume 50 classes for such a course and assume 40 students per class. That’s 2,000 students per semester. Two thousand students equals two thousand books. Assume each book sells for P600… Now multiply that over a period of three to five years for which the book is in circulation.

A hefty, hefty sum, if you think about it, and all would take is a pittance and a tickle on the egos of unwitting teachers.