I want you, I need you; but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.

The Mighty MeatloafI want you, I need you; but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.

Meatloaf: Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

You want a textbook, you need a textbook; but you’re never gonna love a textbook. A textbook is unloved nonfiction. Functional, dry and terse, they have no place in the bedroom; yet the right textbook at the right time delivers.

Louise Rosenblatt describes two reasons for reading: reading for experience and reading for knowledge. The textbook is 100% knowledge. Rosenblatt’s argument is that when we read, we are negotiating meaning with the text. When we are reading for experience, we appreciate the writer’ skill. Many nonfiction texts are beautifully crafted and moving:

‘… the canal here was as clear as a chalk stream. Yellow water lilies drooped like balls of molten wax on the surface.’ (The Unofficial Countryside, Richard Mabey).

But the textbook is not a lovely thing. The reader is as responsible for creating meaning as the writer. The reason you want and need the textbook is because it contains the missing piece of knowledge. Your missing piece of knowledge. For a moment, the paragraph, sentence of word speaks to you alone and it is glorious. And then it is gone. The words are the same, but you are different; the words have changed you and you don’t need them anymore.

So textbooks will never win prizes. Their moments of loveliness are brief, lonely and rare. The challenge is to convince a young reader that textbooks have something for them; that they are more than a chore. Learners need textbooks. Successful learners will want them. Sadly, they might not ever love one, but two out of three ain’t bad.

Next week: I’ll do anything for love (but I won’t do that)


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