When is less, more? Answer: When it’s a California textbook. Just ask Assembly member Jackie Goldberg--sponsor of AB 756, the bill to ban the state from purchasing texts longer than 200 pages.
Honestly, folks, this is no joke. And not only does the former Compton teacher want new textbooks for California schools to be limited to 200 pages, her assembly colleagues actually agree with her.
By a vote of 42-26 the lower house in Sacramento recently went on record supporting the novel idea that fewer pages equals greater achievement. Never mind that no study establishing a "small is beautiful" correlation can be produced by supporters of the legislation or that an arbitrary numerical quota seems plain stupid. The important thing is that Goldberg and company have an idea about which they feel warm and fuzzy. And that, apparently, is all it takes for whacky educational policy to pass muster in the Assembly.
One can hardly imagine the amount of media scorn that would befall a Republican legislator who proposed a minimalist limit to textbook pagination. "Dumb and Dumber" jokes would flow from late night comics like vintage wine:
*"Did you hear that Assemblyman Yahoo wants all California texts to be shorter than 200 pages? --And to require no more than four crayons per page."
*"When asked what part of U.S. History should be deleted to keep within the 200-page limit, Rep. Yahoo replied, ‘How about the Constitution?’"
*"Yahoo’s other ideas for education include miniaturized desks, shorter teachers, 20 x 20 classrooms, and lower IQs."
Goldberg’s defense of her proposal is almost as funny. The world, she observes, has changed significantly in the last few decades, yet we’re still using big, bulky books to teach our kids. She also says that today’s workplace demands more than the ability to read page 435 on some manual and that a more "dynamic...learning process" is required.
Can anyone in class, I wonder, define the term "non sequitur"? Or was that Latinism on page 201? More specifically, one might reply to Goldberg’s "weighty" arguments as follows: 1) Some people continue to wear pants that cover their rumps despite the fact that the world has changed. 2) The ability to read page 435 of a manual is not a sufficient skill for success, but it is necessary.
Excessive jokes aside, the philosophical basis for Goldberg’s legislation is the ubiquitous educational emphasis on "process." According to this school of thought, information itself isn’t nearly as important as learning how to learn. Thus, for Goldberg, essential data can be crammed into 200 pages--no matter what the subject. Internet references in limit-exempt appendices will then provide the dynamism that compensates for this textual downsizing.
In practice, process-education has tended to produce students too uninformed to know what puzzles they should be unraveling on the information superhighway. And it has had this effect because "learning skills" or the "love of learning" are virtually impossible to nurture in students who don’t know much about anything in particular. Superficiality begets couch-potatoes, not dedicated researchers.
A more constructive approach to California’s educational woes would involve loosening the death-grip of interest groups like the CTA on education policy, providing more flexibility to charter schools, and even revisiting the hated concept of vouchers. In a competitive educational environment, pedagogical idiocies like the above would not be met with silence by state employees whose very jobs rest on their effectiveness.