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Monday, May 04, 2009

E-Books in Our Schools?

The Texas legislature is debating whether to begin deploying electronic instead of paper textbooks in Texas public schools. Proponents say it saves paper and storage and in the long run will be less expensive. Opponents say, it's a dangerous innovation and if it was good enough for grandma.....

Oh, and what if the lights went out. Then where would you be.

In the dark!

And you can't read a paper textbook in the dark either.

Now I like electronic learning. The great thing about e-books is that you can go so far beyond traditional printed texts as far as the depth of material you can offer. With printed text, the publisher must weigh the cost in paper and ink of every photograph they put into the text. And forget about video or audio materials. With an e-book, however, you can click on a hyperlink and see Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. You can listen to Ronald Reagan challenge Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!". You can watch our grandfathers storm the beaches at Normandy, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. It's so easy to go to the source.

Amerigo Vespucci's map can be scanned and available at the click of a link. Want a copy for the kids to pass around, hit the "print" button. Want to hear FDR's "Day that Will Live in Infamy" speech. Click on a button. The teacher can even plug into a projector and put it up on the screen without having to check out the DuKane projector and buy a $200 filmstrip.

It's absurd to limit our kids to a two page summary chapter on the Civil War, written by a leftist historian and then picked over by a paranoid textbook committee that is devoted to making the text politically correct (never mind about the truth). That's why our country is in the shape it's in these days. You can't read the tepid pablum that passes for textbooks any more - not and remain conscious at any rate! How much better to have e-books that link to the original source material, that show original maps, film of the actual events, photos, artifacts and the original words of the players in history, literature, art, math, science and economics.

How cool would it be if our smart kids could go off exploring on a subject that interests them instead of being tied down to memorizing a few watered down facts and figures and dates? Imagine kids not being bored to death by what they were studying.

An e-book is a whole library on the subject at hand and is not hindered by the cost of paper and ink or the limitations of the written word. An e-book publisher doesn't have to decide whether a picture should be printed in black and white or color, large or small. Bytes and pixels cost the same in black and white or color. The cost of including the vast amount of free written records, historical materials, visual and audio records is negligible when stored on a disk or hard drive or server compared to what it would cost to duplicate even a fraction of that information in a printed volume. An encyclopedia set that my parents took two years to pay for when I was a kid, can be had for less than $20 today at Best Buy on a shiny silver disk!

Now I confess to being an information junky. I read whole encyclopedias cover to cover when I was a kid. Not every kid is like that, but many are. Why don't we give them a challenge too while we're stuffing information into the unwilling and oppositional kids that don't have an interest in learning. With e-books, a kid can go just as far as he or she wants. With e-books, it's not hard to give them the enrichment materials they will devour if they have it.

The great danger of making this promiscuous lot of learning available to our kids is that we might accidentally teach our kids to think for themselves - and you know what trouble that caused back in colonial times. I mean, first Ben Franklin started newspapers, then he regularized the postal system and then there were all those libraries and next thing you know, the tea was in the harbor and the British had a revolution on their hands.

I kinda think it's time for another revolution in this country. But, we're not going to see that happen if we keep spoon feeding our kids with the intellectual pablum being dosed out in today's printed textbooks.

Imagine if our kids could read the words of the founding fathers for themselves instead of a summary of what some progressive socialist textbook writer would like to believe they said. Wouldn't that turn the world upside down as one English King name George lamented.

What's even more cool about e-books is that there's so much material in them that there's no way on God's green earth that any gang of progressives on a textbook committee could possibly read all the stuff in all those e-books! There's bound to be some original thought slip through, especially if they include original video and audio of the actual events and people responsible for all that history, literature, mathematics and science we're asking them to learn. If we give them the opportunity to sit at the feet of some of history's great teachers and hear them in their own words, then there might be hope for this generations of our kids and grand kids yet.

Then, two years from now, instead of buying new textbooks, you just download the update! Quick, clean and no trees have to die and maybe we could use the money for something else like better cafeteria food!

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King


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