Thursday, July 20, 2006

book order

I just ordered a textbook for my fall Contemporary Moral Issues course. I feel a little guilty about it.

For one thing, using a textbook feels like a cop-out. The text is an anthology, with one section devoted to moral theories, and another dealing with different issues. It does include a decent number of different issues, but, like practically every introductory ethics textbook I've come across, it mainly repackages the same handful of standbys. For instance, the environmental ethics stuff always includes Garrett Hardin and the animal ethics stuff always includes Peter Singer - both authors whose positions are, as I understand the current debates, at least a little behind the times. I'll feel less than genuine using some of it, because I'll know when something is outdated or half-thoughtful.

Standarization of textbooks also implies that there is a determined set of things that should be thought about the issues at hand. To a very limited, in fact superficial degree, I suppose I accept the notion that a class covering contemporary moral issues does suggest a certain range of topics, and that within those topics there are certain ideas that one should probably consider. I mean, if we're going to talk about environmental ethical issues, one idea that seems like something you'd want to think about is whether we're using up the planet's resources. But when every anthology covers largely the same topics with largely the same articles, it conveys a false impression that these are the only ideas to consider on these topics. I was expressing this aloud the other day, after spending hours hunting for a book for another class, and Lauren said it suggests teaching philosophy is like teaching math.

Even that doesn't go far enough, because there can be different ways of teaching mathematical concepts. Standardization presents a false view of learning, and maybe a dangerous one. Learning isn't the absorption of pre-digested bits of information. Textbooks have broken things down too much. Textbooks are full of spit.

For another thing, although this is one of the cheaper textbooks I could find, it's still 75 bucks. That's disgusting to me. I don't relish putting my students' money into the publishing companies' bank accounts, because as I believe (and as I think almost everyone in academia tacitly recognizes), textbook publishers are greedheads. They churn out edition after edition, making minor or even merely cosmetic changes, increasing their prices, and in effect bilking students. I used a very good anthology from a Canadian company in previousl Contemp Moral Issues courses, one I liked, one that had some different stuff in it, but this year they've taken it off the market. The book was $60, and when I used it I apologized to the class for the price, only to be told it was, for most of them, the cheapest book they bought for the term. But now the company has divided that one book into three, which contain the same content, with one or two more essays in each volume, each volume costing about $30.

I guess the challenge will be to find ways to give my students more to digest, or somehow induce indigestion in them, something like that.

1 comment:

Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

And what's with the pop-art, "contemporary" covers? Why do they all gotta look like that?