Toxic Textbooks

I rarely use textbooks in the courses that I teach (most of which relate to some aspect of business or management). The reason why is that I often find large gaps between what is written and what actually happens in most workplaces – not to mention the lack of Lean thinking in the writing.

Most textbooks are written by career academics who do not have the work experience, particularly at managerial levels, to inform students of issues, details, constraints, nuances, and opportunities. When I have used textbooks, I find myself highlighting a few things on every page to explain to students in class where the author is wrong, something needs to be clarified, or something that is more limited in applicability than the author implies.

In addition, the mere name “textbook” can signal to students that the subject matter is theoretical in nature, which is a source of dissatisfaction. I have found that students almost immediately associate me as a teacher of theory when I use a textbook in a course, which in my view makes textbooks toxic to learning. They undermine my efforts to be the kind of teacher I want to be: one who closes large gaps between theory and practice.

In many cases, textbooks diminish students’ sense of the value of the course. I avoid this problem by more closely connecting my courses to student’s lives and livelihoods. It is a lot more work for me in terms of course preparation compared to simply assigning a $150 textbook.

My experience indicates that greater and more durable learning takes place when theory, which is of limited interest to students (particularly for undergraduate and most Master’s degrees), is minimized (used only when truly necessary, in context) and the connection to their lives and livelihoods is both clear and compelling.

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