The Texas Textbook Wars

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There is an interesting discussion underway on the “Texas Textbook Wars” over at Of course, when one posts a comment in these sorts of online venues, one always runs the risk of the emotional response to a substantive post.  However, there is also the probing question, though, that deserves more attention, which is why I am making a more thorough answer to one of those questions here at theendoflinearity.

My original post went as follows:

Of course, the really interesting part of this debate is the topics that are just under the surface. In a world of iPads, Kindles and digital content, we are still talking about books! In the era of Encyclopedia Britannica, “content” was static because it was printed on paper, and it was not cost effective to print more than every 7 or 8 years. The content was never static; the delivery and production mechanisms were.

In a world of Wikipedia, content can now be more dynamic, because the costs to deliver it are dramatically reduced. Think about it. If there is a mistake in Britannica, it will take years to have it corrected. If there is a mistake at Wikipedia, it can be fixed in seconds. Even better, debates like this one can have all of the arguments available to students, not just the conclusion. Facts like 1+1=2 are easy to validate; other “facts” are bit more challenging to nail down firmly.

Please check out these two posts for much longer expositions on the real battles we should be fighting over textbooks: Learning to Read – Books or Words? Beyond Schools: A Foundation for Education in the 21st Century.

The more useful question (the other one told me I had a lot to learn) went like this:

i agree with you but this also means that what they dont want us to see can be rewritten just as easy

As I commented in the thread at FoxNews, I run the risk of making an assumption about who “they” is, however, I will define they for my purposes as either author, publisher or state board of education and answer the question posed from these three perspectives.

Let’s start with the authors.  From their perspective, the publishing world is not that far off from where musicians were in 2003 before the introduction of iTunes.  Publishers, in many ways, are very similar to the labels in the music space.  In an analog world, these labels were vital to distribution.  In a digital world, any author or musician can reach their audiences directly.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that publishers need to leave the scene.  Music labels that have figured out the digital world are making money; those that haven’t are not.  So, the bottomline is this.  There is incredible talent writing for textbooks, and there are teachers and others that have written amazing content, too, as well as curriculum that could reach the students.  No more publishers or SBOEs standing in the way of the content flow.  All that is written becomes available.

From the publishers perspective, I suspect many would love to see a business model evolve that would let more of their content be used more often and more effectively.  I also suspect they realize that their margins would grow exponentially if they could free themselves of the dead tree format known as books.  I also suspect that if publishers could publish their content digitally, they would also be able to “tag” it with both state standards codes, as well as with many other rich bits of metadata.

Why would this matter?  It matters because once there is rich metadata, then one can stop trying to figure which ONE book will satisfy the needs of every student, every district and every state.  You can have as many books as you need.  This leads to the ultimate in local control. Local school districts and individual families can set up their own unique filters.  The student still meets the state standards and assessment requirements, but they do it with the content that meets their personal ethical, religious or other standards. One size does not need to fit all.  Such an environment would move our moral and ethical debates back into the public square and out of the classroom.

And perhaps, get us closer to the individual rights our founders were trying to protect.  In order to believe what I want to believe, I need to let you believe in your unique beliefs, too.  More on individual rights here.

The most powerful effect of liberating content, authors and distributors is to suddenly create a whole new type of state board of education.  Just like the crowd-sourcing we’ve seen in other venues, there is no reason in the world to not crowd-source content.  Rather than less than 20 board members, elected by a small turnout of registered voters that represents an even smaller fraction of the total population, we can enable every learner and every citizen to have a vote.  Successful content that is used by many and is effective will be the content that wins out.  And, this ultimately is where the battle must be won, in the hearts and minds of our students, students that are both literate and prepared for a truly civil society.

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