Textbook

I have commitment issues.

It sometimes takes me years to settle on a single textbook.

But I teach in a series of classes that require students (for reasons of Title V and articulation gobbledygook) to read at least one or two or more book-length nonfiction texts. There is important value here; students read a long form argument, carried by a professional writer from page 1 all the way to 317. Ideally, this means students will see and appreciate the careful, nuanced moves that an author makes while crafting context and tangents and evidence, all this preparing the reader for that final grand vista of a thoroughly articulated argument (that may or may not ever appear).

I like it. I get it.

But a part of me wonders if the students in these classes might be better served by reading samples of professional writing closer to the length the written products they themselves will have to produce. I will never be asking them to write a single 300 page argument on anything. My longest assignments tend to tap out around 14 pages, the rest are more like 6. Would it behoove my students to see the moves writers make to articulate arguments in a more limited amount of space? How can we be both thorough and concise?

And it gets more complicated. I’m also trying to provide students with texts that “represent a broad spectrum of opinions and ideas, writing styles, and cultural experiences.” As diverse and critically thoughtful as any one author may be, assigning and primarily reading from a single book doesn’t quite give the same spectrum of opinions, ideas, writing styles, and cultural experiences that one encounters when reading twenty different essays and articles from writers who are all different, who all have their own stylistic prose, and who all articulate conflicting and opposing opinions. I want students to see how writers construct points and counterpoints, and then counterpoints to those counterpoints. Most book-length texts from a single author don’t lend themselves to this so easily.

[And before someone suggests an anthology as a solution to all of this (as the course outline does), let’s not forget that whenever we assign an $80 anthology, we use maybe 10% of the readings. I know, I’m exaggerating, but only by 5%. So will indexanyone protest if I forego the book requirements and make my own digital anthology of the 30 articles and essays I know my students need to read?]

All ranting aside, I’m writing to announce that I have settled on something new for my classes, The Cosmpolites, by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian.

Here’s a book with which it is as easy to agree as it is to disagree. Totally provocative and controversial with the questions it raises regarding global citizenship and the meaning of patriotism and national identity in a world where countries now buy and sell passports. Even better, it’s not so prohibitively long that I won’t be able to supplement with ten or so articles and essays for all the juicy side arguments.

 

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Textbook

2 thoughts on “Textbook

  1. Hi Benjamin,

    I have commitment issues also! I teach a writing class and significantly revamped my class this semester. (I always plan to revamp my classes, but the new term sneaks up on me and I can never process my textbook order in time.) I feel better about the class, but I question one of the textbooks that I use. (I tend to use nontraditional textbooks; my current first textbook is King’s On Writing.) The class isn’t a fiction class, and King’s book is primarily about writing fiction. But now that I’ve reread the book for the fifth time in so many years, I feel like I’m finally doing a better job of connecting the book to what’s relevant about the writing process. I do ask the students what they think about the book, and it can really go either way. I switch up with a lot of outside articles for them to read as well, and another slightly more traditional writing book.

    This is to say that I’m actually very interested in looking at other materials, and the book you mentioned here looks fascinating. I also feel like I’m also trying to find things that students can look at as more connected to the writing and caliber that I’m expecting of them.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Benjamin,

    Reading your post a had a distinct feeling of deja vu. I also have major commitment issues when it comes to textbooks. I’m always looking for the one PERFECT textbook that can provide most of the information that I need for class. But I also want the book to be affordable so that I’m not creating an unnecessary financial burden for my students. My personal experience is that it is almost impossible. I’ve actually written the entire curriculum for at least three classes in the past three years. It’s an insane amount of work. I did get lucky this year with my “Hendrix to Hip Hop” pop music history class; Bob Stanley’s Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! matched up almost perfectly to my time period. And it was a great read to boot! So I guess I’m 1 for 4. Oh well.

    Regards,
    -Eric

    Liked by 1 person

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