Wednesday, December 07, 2005

How Textbooks Got That Way

Maybe you're familiar with modern introductory math textbooks and their something-for-everyone editorial slant?

Sometimes you might see something TOTALLY BIZARRE in a textbook and wonder where that came from?

Eventually I might be to blame.

Publishers have started sending me email asking me to take their poorly designed surveys about textbooks in the works. They bribe me with free books and free money if I share my thoughts with them.

In case you haven't noticed, sometimes my opinions are out of the mainstream. Sometimes WAY out there. And while I play nice and speak the party line when I am talking to freshmen, I am less prone to self-censorship when talking to people who should be mature enough to form their own judgements about the value of my opinions.

Most recently I checked off a box on a survey indicating that I think that "good exercises" is the most important feature in selecting a calculus text; the survey did not ask by what standards I judge exercises. It also asked me to state -- in one sentence -- what other features would characterize the ideal calculus text. I said that it should feature good graphic design, be small enough for students to carry it around, and it should be cheap. It's comments like this that cause your favorite topics to be banished to an online appendix.