Saturday, February 6, 2010

I'm Considering a New Textbook ...

The flyer's here: "American Government and Politics: Deliberation, Democracy, and Citizenship."

My current book is George C. Edwards, et al., Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy, 14/E. I've been using the Edwards text for 10 years, and I hadn't even thought about switching to a new volume but the cost of the book is out of control. A brand new copy at my bookstore's going for almost $150.00 and a used book is about $97.00. Although I've never been primarily driven by price considerations for students, it's simply much too expensive this year; and there are more and more alternatives becoming available all the time (online e-books, all-paper three-hole volumes, etc.).

With just so much to be done every semester (and little time), having a good book and getting into a good learning routine is crucial -- and it's taken me a long time to find a rhythm. The Edwards book has a powerful thesis suggesting that "politics and government matter," especially for young people, who in turn are increasingly apathetic. The scholarship is first rate and the revised editions are available by the January following the November elections every two years. I like that, and in the past I'd really appreciated all of the instructor's ancillary materials -- including a students' practice webstite, which had been free to use until the 13th edition came out.

I've found my groove with Government in America, but I think perhaps I should move on, and not just because of price. I have no idea if I'll adopt the Bessette volume, in any case. I found an examination copy in my mailbox as I was leaving work Thursday, and I've been reading the book this weekend. I'm liking it. There are so many texts on the market I could be reading different books all year, without that much variation. (So I'd be glad to settle on something quickly.) If you look at the chapters at the flyer, however, I'm pleased that there are two whole chapters on American citizenship, exceptionalism, and civic culture (tied together by the thesis of "deliberative democracy"). And importantly, the chapters on civil liberties and civil rights come right after (chapters 6 and 7). The order is important. I stress a "building blocks" approach in the classroom. Teaching the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, for example (with the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists), provides a surprisingly good lead-in to the study of the Bill of Rights, especially as it relates to current events in civil liberties. A number of books place civil liberties at the end of the text (along with civil rights), and by that time it's almost finals week. (And there's considerably less engagement as the semester's winding down.)

Anyway, I'm not making a decision right away. The authors of the American Government and Politics: Deliberation, Democracy, and Citizenship are at Claremont McKenna in Pomona, so I've thought of contacting them, especially John Pitney, to whom (I think) I introduced myself at an academic conference a few years back.

Anyway, more on this later. My classes alone could potentially lead to the sale of over 400 copies of the main textbook annually. Not all of them will be new, but a good portion of them will. Publishers know this and compete frantically for new faculty adopters. I'll check out a few other volumes as well, but the same criteria of price, book structure and accessibility, and ancillary technologies will be driving my decision.


Law and Order Teacher said...

I read with some enthusiasm your post about texts. I don't teach government at this time, but it is part of the social studies curriculum. We just bought new government texts and we were appalled about the liberal slant. We have decided to teach around the text.

I wish we had better sources but that seems to be the way of the world. Our department is overwhelmingly conservative which makes it hard to find texts that truly reflect American history. Have you ever considered writing a text?

David Kennedy wrote my AP text. I heard him speak at the AP essay reading last year in Louisville. He's liberal, but interesting.

I'd be interested in your take on textbooks.

Always On Watch said...

I realize that what I'm about to say is not the focus of this post...

You mentioned:

I hadn't even thought about switching to a new volume but the cost of the book is out of control.

It is coming to the point that many full-time students cannot afford to buy textbooks. I find this trend abhorrent.

Why is it that the cost of textbooks has soared and keeps soaring?

AmPowerBlog said...

Law and Order Teacher: The Edwards book specifically adopts a neutral point of view, and does not push one side or the other. The focus on the scholarship. If a text pushed a hardline left agenda, it's out for me. A little bit liberal doesn't bother me. I can work around that.

AmPowerBlog said...

Always on Watch: Actually, cost is a major point of the post. I probably should have said that I noticed the price increases over the last few years, but I think it's now at a point where books are obscenely expensive. It's a monopoly market. As more technology -- online book sales, etc. -- enters the market, prices will have to come down. They've always been too much, but I can't see charging $150.00 for a book for just one class.

Texan in Wisconsin said...

If you switch to this book, I volunteer to buy a few copies to donate to your classes. I'd like to "give back" for the great education I received.

Texan in Wisconsin