Monday, January 15, 2007

Books that are better not read

If you like to read non-fictional books in your spare time, not for work, school or university, you will soon have realized how bad some books are written.

While there's quite a lot of good books about most topics on the free market by now (I'm currently reading Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and will afterwards read Jared Diamond's "Collapse"), most of them are not used for educating those who have no choice in their reading matters, namely the pupils and the students. I've learned a lot about physics from "Scrooge's Cryptic Carol", I've learned a lot about the world and mankind from the three "The Science of Discworld"-books, I've learned a lot about the oceans from Frank Schätzling's "Nachrichten aus einem unbekannten Universum" ("News from an Unknown Universe" would be the correct translation). All those things I haven't learned from school books, even though I had physics and other sciences at school.

It seems as if those who write textbooks or books about the fundamentals of a topic think the less interesting things are described, the more people can learn from them. That's wrong, of course. Especially in school where people - at least in Germany - are not taking classes they are interested in, but have to attend all classes of their year, interesting textbooks would probably lead to better results. There are certain classes in school (such as history and most sciences) which a lot of pupils find boring. Those classes are not boring by themselves, but they usually are taught in a boring way.

You can teach history by just going through the numbers of the years in which something interesting (more or less interesting, that is) happened. This is the way history is taught at most schools. You can also teach history by telling the pupils stories about what happened, by telling them how life was in the Middle Ages for a peasant, a citizen or a lord, by describing why certain events were so important. This is the way history students learn about history in university, actually. But why wait until you decide to study something? Most people won't get that far because the only see history as something boring with a lot of numbers attached to it (while the student of history learns where to look for such a number when he or she needs it...).

It's the same way with sciences. Of course you can teach physics by just writing down the formulas necessary to calculate certain things. But pupils won't react positive to this - except for those few who really like physics (or chemistry or biology or various other sciences).

So I've often wondered - especially since I discovered scientific books could be interesting and easy enough to read - why those books about certain topics a lot of people have to read to get the basics can't be written more interesting. Given the fact that pupils in Germany don't seem to favour reading at all any more and aren't the most clever (or at least the most well-educated) pupils in Europe, I would suggest to the ministry for education changing the textbooks to make them more readable - instead of, for example, changing grammar and spelling of our language to "make it easier" (which by the way it isn't...).

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