Perils of Guide Books

How do the guide books prevent your learning of English?

In the market we get far more guide books than text books for some subjects particularly for English. What I say here may not apply to guide books for other subjects but they do apply very much for guide books for English. These abound in plenty in the Indian market and vary much in quality but in general the quality is poor and accountability almost nil. The bazaar guides market is a huge business  with high stakes for publishers, examiners, teachers  and agents. Anyone can publish a guide book and often the author’s name is not mentioned in the book. Immense harm is done to many students by these cheap quality guide books and research shows that they are a major factor in preventing the learning of English in spite of the many years spent in the school learning this language. This is an intriguing paradox—these books can help you pass the exam but hamper your learning of the language. This writer has done  research in Madras University on the effects of the use of guide books.

Their use has become rampant. There are teachers who teach from the guide book rather than the text book. There are others who impose the guide book  on their students.


Consequently many students become strangers to their text books.

Once a wife complained to the husband about their son.

Wife:     Money is not safe in our house any more. Wherever I keep money it                disappears. Our son always finds it out. I don’t know what to do.

Husband: Just keep it in his text book. He will never find it out.

The unusual zeal of teachers in promoting guide books gives grounds for believing that commissions flow from authors to class room teachers. Quality of the guide book need  not be their concern but the size  of the commission certainly could be. Even question paper setters are not above using guide books for setting question papers. It makes their task so much easier and   will spare them the trouble of  going through the prescribed text books.  The only casualty in the process is academic standards. Teachers lacking competence in the language value exam  papers basing themselves on the guide book answers. In some cases where students write their own brilliant  original answers the scripts receive mediocre marks at the hands of mercenary examiners. It’s like the curious story about Charlie Chaplin. It is said that in a certain American town during a carnival a Charlie Chaplin parody  competition was taking place  and the comedian himself was passing that way. Giving in to a momentary whim  he also decided to participate .When the results were declared- hold your breath- the original Charlie Chaplin received only the third prize, his imitators walked off with the top prizes.

How do the guide books prevent  your learning of English? It happens like this. Instead of going through the text and understanding and  analyzing the text the student goes straight to the question answer section in the guide book and making no effort to understand the answer just studies by heart the answer and vomits it out on the answer paper. There is no diligent search and exciting discovery. Thus all joy in learning is lost in the process and one’s brain is preserved unused like the proverbial Sardaji’s brain. There is no thrill of discovery, no exploitation of curiosity.   The use of guide books kills all originality of thinking and creativity. It is amazing to see sometimes in the guide books the same  essay answer to a dozen different questions. Whatever the question, the answer is invariably a summary of the lesson with scant attention to the wording of the question. It is like some shops where all the items on display cost the same amount Rs 10 or Rs 100 or whatever. The products available may cover a wide range like brooms to books but the cost is the same. Whatever item you take you pay the same price.

While going to take classes in an institution that was new to him a teacher  shocked when he entered the class room to see that none of the students had the English text book with them but all had the guide book. When he  asked the college authorities concerned for his copy of the text book they pleaded helplessness and were puzzled  by his request. They honestly wondered if a text book was necessary. Their academic coordinator asked him if a text book was essential. .The previous teacher never asked for or used any text book. He taught straight from the guide book. And the students had been passing in the exams.

Guide books have some use for the learner if he is discriminating in their use. He can get some rough idea of how an answer should be written and what  the contents of the answer are. .He may get some information not given in the text book but some times this is inaccurate and unreliable. But he will make a big mistake if he is a stranger to the text book and blindly memorizes guide book answers. Often the books contain language and printing mistakes. A blind and slavish use of the guide books does immense harm to language learning.

This problem is compounded by wrong methods of teaching used by some teachers. Some explain the lessons in the mother tongue of the students or give straightaway a translation of the passages. The students may know the contents of the lesson but not how to  express it in English.

Is it any wonder then that many years of learning English in school make the students incapable of either writing or speaking proper English? Their confidence vanishes and they become tongue tied when they face interviews or when they have to say something not given in the guide books.

These students have to pay hefty fees and attend special Spoken  English courses conducted by institutes other than schools to improve their woefully inadequate communication skills.

It is not that there are no good guide books at all for English literature. There are some reliable ones printed in the West  and authored by reputed university teachers. Examples are Bar Notes and York Notes for Shakespeare. But the structure and presentation of these guide books is vastly different  from our local ones. They are concise in their presentation , written in good language free from mistakes and do not offer ready to write, packaged answers. They offer rather critical summaries and expert comments from established critics.  These are meant for the intelligent students and the average student will not be able to even understand them, much less make use of them.

Let me ask myself

1. Do I read my text books or only my guide books?

2. Do I slavishly mug up guide book answers instead of using them as a help?

3. Do I read the text books closely and with concentration?


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