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ISSUE 119 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 9/30/2005

Textbooks traumatize

By Nicole Zepper
Staff Writer

Friday, September 30, 2005

We've all experienced it: that sinking feeling one gets when purchasing textbooks for the new semester. In less than half an hour at the bookstore, we are completely transformed from happy, carefree, college students into individuals who are both bitter and broke.

According to an editorial published earlier this month in The New York Times by Yale law school professor Ian Ayres, the Government Accountability Office has released a report stating that over the past two decades, the cost of college textbooks has increased at more than twice the rate of inflation. This presents a serious problem to all the poor, struggling college students out there. What is to be done about this escalating dilemma?

One solution Ayers suggests is to have universities buy the textbooks themselves and then give them to the students in class, in the same way most secondary schools operate. Tuition would increase to pay for these books, but perhaps professors would be a little less hasty to assign newer or more expensive editions in class.

I would like to take Ayers' money-saving ideas further. In order to fully maximize the remaining balance in students' checking accounts, I suggest that we eliminate textbooks altogether. We could go back to an era of oral tradition, passing knowledge down to younger generations through verbal repetition and memory.

The verbal solution would not only relieve students and colleges from exorbitant prices for elaborately bound paper and ink, but might even be more captivating and enjoyable than their current text-based counterparts.

What could be more academically stimulating than gathering around the fireplace in Thorson lounge, sipping hot tea and cider with classmates and listening to one's professor rattle off a lengthy, Iliad-style poem, explaining the process of photosynthesis or describing how to find the derivative of a function? I think it would be harder to fall asleep during such oral presentations than while reading a customary (i.e. monotonous) textbook on the same material. Besides, if it was good enough for the ancient Greeks and Romans, it ought to be good enough for us.

Taking an oral approach to our education would have some positive side effects. Without all those textbooks to haul around and weigh us down, students would be able to move about campus with greater speed and agility. The time saved by traveling at a faster pace across campus would give students a greater opportunity to ponder their professors' oral teachings. Oral communication would eliminate textbook reading assignments, a known devourer of students' time.

The absence of textbooks in the academic setting would increase students' spending money and free time, at the very reasonable price of significant intellectual growth.

Perhaps the elimination of textbooks is improbable; it's a solution to the problem of high textbook prices. Still, one way or another, the cost of college textbooks needs to decrease, and soon. Otherwise, a lack of textbooks may quickly become a matter of financial impossibility for some students, rather than a matter of choice.

Staff writer Nicole Zepper is a sophomore from Perham, Minn. She majors in American Studies and English.

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