By Olivia Zhu
Today I learned that Steve Nowicki wrote my ninth grade biology textbook! Dr. Nowicki, most commonly known for his neurobiology research in birdsong or his role as Dean and Vice Provost for undergraduate education, gave a lecture about his experience writing a high school textbook on Tuesday, February 11, through Bass Connections.
Nowicki shed light into the seven-year process of writing a textbook. He said the table of contents itself took two years. After drafting an initial table of contents, Nowicki sent it to nationwide teacher focus groups—multiple times—for revisions. He then edited the table of contents to meet each individual state’s standards, a process complicated by No Child Left Behind. As for the actual writing process? “I could send the editors crap,” Nowicki confessed. The editors would then turn crap into “better crap.”
Nowicki then faced more challenges. He described the struggle of biology textbook companies against the Texas state government, whose governor and chair of state education simply did not believe in evolution. The legislature ultimately allowed the teaching of evolution, mostly in the interest of attracting businesses, in Nowicki’s opinion. The opposition got personal as well. Nowicki said that in the Los Angeles Unified School District, competing textbook companies spread smear sheets about him questioning his credentials as a scientist and the quality of his book.
Ultimately, Nowicki put forth tremendous effort into writing a textbook that still stands as the biology book for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, but said it did little for his CV and didn’t turn much profit.
Still, he said he feels rewarded because he believes “each average citizen should know something about biology,” if only to be thoroughly informed of current issues.