Using Old Books

In response to a question about an old science book that had rabbits classified as rodents, and whether old books that are so inaccurate should be used in education, Amy G. offered this post to the old email list:

I think that most of the things that are going to have changed are going to either: 1) be so minor that it doesn't really matter if the child learns the "wrong" information, or 2) be the types of things that we'll recognize have changed and be able to tell them. In the bunny example, growing up and thinking that rabbits are rodents isn't really going to be a big deal. I was taught as a child that rabbits were rodents and found out after college, while researching to learn more about my pet guinea pig, that they aren't considered rodents any more. If I'd never learned that, I'd still be a productive adult. It would be a bigger deal if I'd become a vet, but I would have learned it in some of my vet classes. I'd never become a vet based on the animal science I'd learned in the second grade.

Sometimes people bring up changes in names of countries here, but that's the type of thing that's going to be easier to correct. Even if you, the teacher, don't know that a country's name has changed, when you go to find the country on a map, you'll soon see that it doesn't exist. A quick web search will reveal the modern name. I think that the child who knows both the former and the modern names for a country is more educated than the one who only knows the modern name. Better yet, the student who learns why the name changed will really have a good grasp on the politics of the area. (St. Petersburg/Stalingrad/Leningrad is a great example that comes to mind, but there are lots of others.)

We need to remember that while it's very beneficial to have an education that doesn't just cover basic facts, learning "extra" stuff isn't an exact science. Which particular extra stuff is covered doesn't really matter, as long as it's a wide variety of subject areas that stimulates the child's mind. And if a child chooses a career that builds on one of those areas, regardless of whether he becomes a chemist, an art history teacher, or a meteorologist, he'll have advanced education that will thoroughly cover that particular area and clear up any misconceptions he may have based on his early education. Not that we shouldn't try to teach our children what is true, but if they learn things that are a little out of date from time to time, it will either be corrected later on, or it simply won't be important.

Amy G.

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