As you know, I am about to start teaching a module which I last taught (conforming--or not--to a different set of guidelines/requirements/regulations/standards, but we can ignore them) ...I last taught two years ago.
But I have actually been planning this run of the module, partly because I do suppose I have to pretend to pay some attention to the new standards (which, although still meaningless, are actually less restrictive than the old ones). In fact the specified outcomes for the module are so woolly that the only guidance is contained in the shibboleth of "inclusivity".
(My unregenerate dark side still thinks that this is a euphemism for "dumbing down to meet unrealistic and arbitrary government targets", but really I do know better. Honest!)
One practical manifestation of this exercise is that I have been obliged actually to open the textbooks which we recommend to the students. (Only if you recommend them do you get to keep the inspection copies of the latest editions which the publishers so obligingly send at fairly regular intervals. It's quite an ingenious Catch-22. The students and/or the library will buy the latest edition anyway [although not necessarily of this particular textbook which is one of many very similar offerings]. Either, we can recommend it so as to get a free copy, or we have to buy it in order to understand what the students are referring to.
...Or of course ignore the textbooks altogether apart from commenting adversely on scatter-gun arbitrary quotations from them which add nothing to assessed work other than demonstrating that the student has ritually bowed before the Supposed Authority sufficiently to extract a few irrelevant words...
Sorry for the splenetic rant. (I'm jealous, really. I want to be invited to write the definitive textbook. As if.) There is a more serious point to this post:
It is about what "textbooks" do to their subject-matter. Probably under pressure from editors and publishers, authors have to contort and distort their topics to fit published syllabi or standards, and the effects of doing so are wholly pernicious;
- they "send a message" that reading and expressing an interest in this material for its own sake is improbable or even impossible--it has to be packaged as stuff to be "covered" in the interests of getting a qualification. In other words, it positively encourages surface learning, while at the same time doubtless inveighing against it. I am a devotee of popular science books. Granted, they don't (always) go into the (technically) difficult stuff and steer clear of maths (apparently someone told Stephen Hawking that each equation in his book would halve its readership) They start from the assumption that their subject is inherently fascinating, and they (authors, agents, publishers...) will be happy if they manage to ...er, make money. But in this market, for once, making money is a good proxy for a good product. Not so in the textbook market which is artificially created by examination boards and accreditation bodies...
- they regurgitate mainstream and conventional wisdom, with little report of dissenting voices and debate; simply because anodyne regurgitation (is that an oxymoron?) gets people through assessments. Evidence? Follow the treatment of a controversial topic (say, learning styles) through several editions of a textbook and see how it shifts to accommodate the conventional wisdom...
- they package ideas within the discourse of their avowed subject matter; I remember "Psychology for Teachers" and "Psychology for Social Workers". The selection of topics is not so much the problem--it is the stipulative rhetoric with which the material is pushed out.