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But, the book says!

I thought the "Learning to Read Biology" study was pretty damn nifty. There were a few interesting ideas that I thought came up; I'll see if I can kind of keep them straight.

First of all, there's the stuff about the nameless/faceless/authorless textbooks. That's something that always seemed superWeird to me in high school; I mean, someone had to write the thing, but who? Did they just know everything ever about chemistry and decide to write it all down? But, I'm pretty sure these were questions that never entered my mind before college. I can't imagine Little Shark sitting in 10th grade physics questioning the textbook author. So I do think that sort of journey into more critical reading is a real one.

Even more interesting to me was the role her freshman English class seemed to play. Since I spend most of my time now in English and Political Science, the sorts of author awareness that get talked about make a lot of sense to me. I've lived with a goodly sum of science majors, and I have noticed how many more factual tests they take. The whole system really is set up (at least, in the first few years of college) to reward the "textbook as authority approach" (I think the study even refers to the student's approach as "shrewd" or something because of the way her classes reward that approach), so I can see how that works.

I wonder if there really is a better way, though. I mean, it would seem to an outsider that a first-year pre-med student who spends all of her time questioning the motives of the people who wrote her bio book probably isn't the most efficient. At a certain level in the hard sciences, everyone has to get the widely-accepted basics out of the way. I think the responsibilty for considering author intent, etc. falls more on the instructors who choose the books. I mean, students come in to those early-level classes looking to get the basics out of the way, so what good is it really doing them if they stop and think "hey, who is this guy to claim that cells divide this way?"

The more critical approach is simply more useful/efficient when you get to upper levels and start reading journal articles, etc. Stuff that isn't so. . . widely accepted, I suppose. We have that whole system of peer review to filter out stuff that doesn't deserve to make it into textbooks. . .

Actually, I should stop here before I get into some incoherent rant about peer review systems. Besides, my shift here is almost up.

Comments

I really enjoyed this article and think that it will help me in my consultations. I honestly hadn't thought a lot about the method behind the madness of citation styles. I am interested in some of the other conventions of the styles. For instance, in APA you must always include a comma before the last item in a list, whereas in MLA it is a stylistic choice. I would like to know if there is a reason for this type of rule, or if it is just part of the tradition.

I liked this article too, but then after reading about it I realized that the process Eliza went through is what is supposed to happen in college. If she had the reading awareness of a senior her freshman year, then she would be really atypical. Isn't this just sort of a natural process, part of the reason that four years is the magic number for college in the US?

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