By mid-April, I’m urged to turn in my book orders for classes that begin in August. Why? Because the university is just dying to see what new book titles and pedagogical innovations I’ve got up my sleeve for the fall term? No. Because book buy-back programs want to know which books will be used again and which won’t be, so that they can offer students a few dollars for their books that will appear on someone’s syllabus in the next semester. Leaving aside the fact that I never teach the same course two semesters in a row (with a 2-2 load, they just don’t come around that often), my incentive–if I’m going to make this artificial deadline–is to teach the same damn syllabus over and over again. Don’t think about revising your course over the summer. Add no new books. Don’t add new lectures or even revise old ones. Standardize the product, and keep it coming, like a MacDonald’s franchise.
My special correspondent Indyannna took this snapshot of a poster advertising book buy-back dates at his university before exams have started. Yes, that’s a great plan: sell your books before you study for the final exam or write your final papers. The incentive for students is to slight their grades and learning in favor of the chance for a few dollars per book. (Is it too much to ask that book buyback schemes start only during finals week?) I know that books are expensive–but I’m not apologizing for asking students to borrow from a library or purchase five $20 monographs, when science, economics, and business courses routinely ask students to buy $150 textbooks, plus additional books and materials. Besides, spending money on books isn’t “extra,” it’s part of the expense of college that students should budget for. (I consider University parking passes and beer money “extras,” but I’m afraid they’re things that get budgeted in before books.)
(Note to textbook companies: By the way–haven’t you noticed yet that I never assign your books? If so, why do you keep sending me six to eight free samples per semester? You’re like a spurned suitor who thinks ze’s being charmingly persistent, when really it’s just stalkerish and creepy. Your books irritate me, because I know the cost of your “gift” is just handed on down to the students who buy your books. I give my freebies away to students, especially those studying to be history teachers, so they find good homes where they’re appreciated, but would you please re-examine this wasteful policy of yours?)
Historiann has been criticized in her course evaluations by students complaining that they can’t sell as many books back as they had expected to. How disappointing–I’m sure they were in mint condition. I suppose I should assign only best-sellers by David McCullough or Joseph Ellis, or boring textbooks, because students might get something back for them, instead of assigning the best books in my field–the ones with innovative arguments and evidence that, you know, might make you think. (And, until my next book is published, there just aren’t a whole lot of bestsellers on women’s history, strangely enough. Going with the bestsellers only approach would pretty much bump all women and people of color off the syllabus.) Naively, Historiann had supposed that college students buy books because they’re sort of interested in the ideas inside them, not for their possible resale value. Does anyone else think it’s strange that students would want to try to scrub their bookshelves (and brains?) entirely of course content?