Saturday, February 13, 2016

Why No Textbooks?

(Note: What follows is a discussion of why I am experimenting with not using textbooks, not an argument for why anyone should not use textbooks.  See here also.)

I once read an article in Reader's Digest about how to decide whether to do a task yourself or pay someone to do it.  For example, is it a more economical use of your time to mow the lawn yourself, or to hire someone else to do it?  Part of the calculation had to do with your own income level and/or hourly wage.  If you divide your annual salary by the number of hours you work per year and that figure is larger than the cost per hour to hire someone to mow your lawn, hire out the job because your time is more valuably spent elsewhere.

But, thankfully, that was only a part of the equation.  Another part (I wish I could find the article, because I'm sure there was more) was to consider what you enjoy.  In other words, the personal "perk" you get from performing a task yourself is also a factor in the "value" equation.  If mowing the lawn is something you really enjoy, or you prefer doing it yourself because you are particular about how it is done, or the satisfaction you get from doing it yourself and saving the money is a "plus" in your energy category, then this may outweigh the basic dollars per hour calculation above.

The same is true with mom-energy, even if we don't have an actual paycheck calculation.  Matt has a degree in economics and he is always reminding me of "implicit cost".  In other words, I may be able to find kids' jeans cheaper at a thrift store ... if I don't mind making several trips, if I don't mind weeding through rows of clothes, if can find the sizes I need and if I check them thoroughly for stains.  But if I walk into Kohl's and grab the pairs I need in the sizes I need and walk out ten minutes later, that may be worth the extra (and it might not be that much extra) cost, because time is money.  And stress is costly!

This applies to hundreds of areas of life.  Why do you choose to ... breastfeed or not, use cloth diapers or not, make your own bread or not, paint rooms yourself or not, even (yes, I'm saying it) homeschool or not?  At the end of the day, it isn't a simple right/wrong decision.  And it isn't only a money decision.  It's a broader cost-benefit analysis.  You may not think of it that way consciously, but it is.

One person uses cloth diapers because the things on the "plus" side (whichever things those might be fore her) outweigh the things on the "minus" side.  Reusing something for multiple children gives such a feeling of satisfaction that it outweighs the not-so-bad (to her) job of rinsing dirty diapers.  For another, the the cost of disposables is small (with relation to her household income) and is well worth it compared to the fact that cloth diapers make mommy the only person in the household who is qualified to change and dispose of diapers.

So when I consider going without textbooks, it isn't really a consideration of "right" and "wrong".  It's not even about "good", "better" and "best" (more about that in another post).  It's really about the cost-benefit analysis for our family and, more specifically, for me personally.

Here's a sketch of the "cost" of going without textbooks ...
  • No ready-made material on hand (more time and brainpower needed to make things by hand)
  • Missing out on the colorful, professional layouts
  • More responsibility rests on me to choose (i.e. research and decide on) the scope and sequence (not just within the year, but from one year to another)
But here are (on my balance sheet) are the benefits of dropping textbooks ...
As I read over these, I realize that each one could use some explaining.  Actually, each one could probably use its own blog post.  So for now I'll leave it as it is and come back and retro-link each one as I have a chance to write on it elsewhere. [done!]  As you read over this list, you may realize that some things in the "cost" category would be huge costs for you.  And maybe some of the things in the "benefits" category don't seem like much of a benefit (or would even qualify as a "cost" for you).  This would be one of those areas where knowing yourself and making decisions accordingly will be of great benefit to you and to your family!

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