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Confessions of a Community College Dean: Common Textbooks

March 13, 2006

I have been a reader of Dean Dad for some months now, relishing his posts like the recent Retirement Letter Template. I do, however, feel the need to give a dissenting voice to his recent post on Common Textbooks.

His basic topic is whether is necessary and/or useful to use a standard text in multi-sectioned, lower-level courses: i.e. composition and intro lit courses. Dean Dad argues that while the educator-side of him argues for intellectual control over the material (let the teacher choose), he must side with the centralized choice (let the chair/dead/administration choose). Why? Centralized selection:
* saves students from purchasing the wrong text(s)
* forces debate on the merits of the centralized source
* allows deans to argue for greater acceptance of course credits for transfers, especially for cc and the like with a high transfer population.

Speaking strictly as a low paid, time-taxed adjunct, I disagree.

Students are learning more than just the rote content or specialized ideas of a course…they are learning how to negotiate a complex system (academia) that is not unlike other specialized systems (work, family, etc.). Purchasing the right text for a class seems to be to be a basic skill that falls fully on the student to learn. If that takes purchasing the wrong book to develop it, then the cost of the lesson is his or hers to learn.

Second, to argue that a centralized choice forces debate assumes an equal voice in the department debate. As an adjunct, I have not, over the 7 institutions with which I have had relationships, had that voice. That is, those who are most likely to be saddled with a centralized choice are the ones least likely to be able to debate its merits.

Saying that, real-world situations lean more to a lack of time. I am notified of an open section, at best, a few weeks before the course is to run. So, I have, for the majority of the times, been forced to accept the default text. There have been a few, nice exceptions, of course.

Finally, transfer acceptance is a greater issue than just a standardized text. I have no doubt that it would be easier to argue for acceptance of a course for transfer is all of the sections teach (at least on the surface or syllabus level) the same content. Yet, as an adjunct, I don’t see the selection of a centralized text as the best way to approach this acceptance.

Instead, develop a set of objectives that all courses are to meet. These basic expectations (used for accreditation and already developed) are what serves as a the fundamental argument, not the text. If it becomes evident that one section (i.e. instructor) does not meet, then address it on that level.

I do, of course, have a different agenda than Dean Dad. I am not paid enough to be a mere content facilitator…check that. I guess my pay IS that of a content facilitator. But, my academic aspirations and integrity demand that I push past the basic content and address the ideas. In order to do so to my full satisfaction–which is, after all, the ONLY reason I teach–I need control over the content.

If and when I am given a centralized-chosen text, I will augment at my leisure.

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4 Comments
  1. Inside the Philosophy Factory permalink
    March 13, 2006 2:59 pm

    I can’t agree with you more — it is amazing how a poorly paid adjunct, when presented with required texts, will become creative in teaching what should be taught in spite of the texts allowed… good for you!

  2. Bardiac permalink
    March 13, 2006 4:23 pm

    Here from the discussion at Dean Dad’s. Great post, making some very good points.

  3. March 13, 2006 5:42 pm

    Hi PPP,

    First time reader – and commenter, as it turns out! I read Dean Dad’s post and commented about my surprise that my cc gives me choice – I suddenly feel lucky. But something you said also struck me – the idea that a cc should come up with course goals in order to ‘standardize’ across multiple sections. I think this is a fabulous idea.

    I teach the only section of my course, but my course is part of a certificate program with very ill defined goals. We really could use a little more communication between instructors so that, for example, it’s clear what the students in a prerequisite course like Molecular Biology are being taught. So far, I have no knowledge of any meetings about the certificate program’s goals and I have never once spoken with another instructor.

    We’re all adjuncts with other jobs too, so I’m sure that’s part of the problem. But it does seem kind of sad to be spending our time on something that’s so poorly organized. It feels like even if I do the best job I can do it could all be wasted if the dots don’t get connected.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post – I’m thinking of writing about this myself sometime soon after I think about it a bit more.

  4. jo(e) permalink
    March 15, 2006 3:10 am

    Well said.

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