Education Reform: Let's Start By Burning All The Textbooks / The World Is My Office blog / March 26, 2009 - 4:27 P.M. / Mike Elgan
[snip]. Here's one modest proposal from the tech blogosphere: Get rid of paper textbooks in favor of digital books and materials for high school and college students as a way to both improve education and cut costs.
Paper textbooks are problematic in two ways: First, they're paper. Second, they're textbooks. Let me explain.
What's Wrong With Paper?
All the standard arguments against paper books are especially true for textbooks. Paper requires the cutting down of trees, transport of trees, paper, then books and the use of toxic inks. Paper books are bad for the environment. But textbooks are constantly being replaced with new editions, with the old ones rendered unusable, and can't be sold used or even stocked in a library. Because teachers require new editions, the old editions are useless and end up in landfills.
What's Wrong With Textbooks?
Textbooks can cost a fortune. A typical textbook that might cost $24.99 at Barnes & Noble might be sold to schools or directly to students in college bookstores for $200. [snip].
The high cost has little to do with the cost of production, and everything to do with monopoly pricing. [snip]
But the worst thing about textbooks is that they've evolved into bland, unreadable products of interest group politics. Schools are trying to teach students to be literate, and to develop an ear for good language, then we force-feed them these hideous textbooks, ... .
Of course, electronic books wouldn't stop controversy. But it could push the controversy down to the local level. Rather than tiny minorities of religious people, politically sensitive people or other groups forcing blandness and stupidity on an entire state, only the local school districts should be having these battles in the places where those interest groups exist. Elsewhere, schools could be free to assign real books.
Why Electronic Is Better
Students are already online and electronic. They're mobile and digital. An electronic book can be read in more places. [snip].. They can read on their iPhones on the bus, or read in hundreds of other situations where they wouldn't have their giant, bulky textbook.
The text size can be increased, which helps visually impaired students.
Electronic editions could be updated at nearly zero cost. They could be subscribed to by schools, saving taxpayer money. That way, a college teacher wouldn't have to require the bookstore to stock the new version and dump all the used books. The electronic version would always be updated.
Some of the best universities in the world place complete course materials, including video podcasts of lectures, online. What possible reason would some podunk college have to not take advantage of course material from, say, MIT, whenever possible ... . [snip].
So that's my proposal: Ban all paper textbooks and go electronic. Students could choose to read on PCs, phones or Kindle-like readers. If students don't have some kind of reader, libraries and computer labs do.
And once schools go electronic, let's stop torturing students with textbooks, and introduce them to the real world of intellectual content out there.
A global recession and educational funding crisis makes the perfect time to wrench our children's minds away from the textbook industry, the politically correct anti-intellectuals, special interest groups and the bureaucratic mindset that is wrecking education.
Let's burn the textbooks and go electronic.