And after the course ends you're free to forget anything you learned from it . . .

Get Rid of Those Useless Textbooks

Conrad Weisert
December 26, 2011

NOTE: This article may be reproduced and circulated freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.

For top dollar on your textbooks, sell now

Final exams are done, the fall semester is over, and most college students have made their way home for winter break.

While it's tempting to forget about school until the spring semester begins in January, there's one thing that students should do now: sell their textbooks.

Carolyn Bigda, Chicago Tribune, December 26, sect. 7, p. 5.

"The minute you're done with the textbook, sell it."

—Matt Montgomery, CEO, quoted in the same Tribune article.

Courses:   good & bad

In my student days I took a lot of courses:

But I recall no university-level course that was so worthless that I could hardly wait to unload the required textbook. Except for a few that I lost or gave to friends, those required texts became part of my library. I still consult some of them from time to time, either from specific need or from nostalgic curiosity. From today's point of view, some of the courses I considered boring at the time have turned out to be surprisingly interesting. If I had discarded those textbooks, I would have missed that valuable experience.

That was then and this is now

I've been aware for some time that few of today's students are interested in building a library, much less in stocking it with their course textbooks. At the end of the term, we see a rush to sell textbooks. As consequence:

To top it off, yesterday's Sunday Chicago Tribune published the feature article from which I drew the quotes above. Far from urging students to keep their precious books, the Tribune reinforces the notion that textbooks are burdens to be dumped as soon as possible. The advice was given in the "Business" section, which may explain but doesn't excuse the anti-scholarly bias. Shame on the Chicago Tribune for encouraging it.

What is a textbook for, anyway?

In the sciences, much knowledge is cumulative. What we learn in an elementary course, we use in later advanced courses and eventually in our professional work. Why, then, would a student who just successfully completed my Computer Science course in dynamic data structures be eager to sever a lasting connection with that course?

In the arts and history the cumulative effect is smaller but still present If I'm taking a course on the American Civil War, I may well need to consult for background the textbook from an earlier course on the U.S. Consitution.

Even in economics, where today's theories are often shown to be invalid tomorrow, it may help to review what the previous generation was trying to put into practice.

So, why is everyone so eager to get rid of academic textbooks?

Last modified December 26, 2011

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