the answer is underneath the pavement

When I was a kid, the Yellow Pages were prime real estate for local companies. Companies would choose names like Aaaaardvark Automotive in order to place themselves at the top of the alphabetical search. Small business owners would fork over a hefty load of cash for full-page ads, so that the tired consumer, faced with a barrage of plumber names, would choose the one advertising a BBB logo and a Jesus fish.

Then came Google. 

Suddenly the information was no longer isolated and then broadcasted, but multifaceted and social. For decades, the Yellow Pages vetted names and numbers through a process of reliability. Google was cheaper, faster and more relevant - if not more reliable.  Suddenly an algorithm replaced the sacred yellow book, wrecking havoc on the order (in this case alphabetical order) and placing importance on validity.  

Over time, social media emerged. Now businesses were available on Twitter and Facebook, through apps like Four Square and on viral videos. The nature of how a company communicated with the public had changed from a purely broadcast mindset to a more interactive (though often heavily guarded) and social mindset.

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It has me thinking about the textbook. Corporations are spending big money trying to redefine textbooks. The name change toward "curriculum" speaks volumes to this reality. Now it's a video or a blog or a set of supplemental materials. Or it's a push toward glossy iBooks. 

I wonder, though, if the textbook is simply an educational Yellow Book, trying to reinvent itself as something relevant when the reality is that information has become more widespread, more user-created and more social than the days of the textbook.   

I'm wondering if information has become more social, more user-generated, more widespread and more chaotic than the days of the standardized textbook. I'm wondering if the push to redefine the textbook is simply a final, desperate attempt to suggest that the textbook is more than a modernist relic in factory whose product is becoming increasingly irrelevant in an age of social media.

And here's the crazy part: the most relevant alternative is what was buried underneath the standardized factory. It's the idea that we should evaluate information from multiple sources and learn to think critically through both introspection and social interaction. Good teachers know that books are critical to a classroom. What they don't need, however, is a basal, banal, overly simplified systematic explanation of a subject. 

12 comments:

  1. On one hand I completely understand what you are saying, on the other hand, when I really want to understand something, a well edited, organized, detailed book is indispensable. Sometimes sifting through tons of links many with repetitive info can be trying.

    Really I like to do a little of both. Get a solid core of information from a book, and then surf the internet for the gems of info that let me make a new connection.

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    1. Oh, I'm a big fan of well-edited, detailed books. I should have made that more clear. What I don't like are textbooks. All books should be supplementary, unless the class is specifically designed as a book study. I think it's a tragedy to look at what a Philosophy 101 book does to Plato, for example.

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  2. David Weinberger's book, Too Big to Know, spends some time talking about how the physical nature of books shapes thoughts and thought processes and also how the connected nature of the internet is having the same effect on thought. If you haven't read it already, I think you'd love it as it is in line with this post.

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    1. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for letting me know.

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  3. Thanks for saying that "all books should be supplementary." It should be one of many resources. But it's tough to wean teachers off textbooks when they have limited access to other resources, either by choice ("safe" to follow the textbook) or due to lack of time and funding.

    I smiled when reading Aaaaardvark because I retained a lawyer once with name of Arkes #firstoneIsaw :) Thanks, John!

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  4. I cannot wait for textbooks to disappear.

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  5. Deep down, I don't think that coursebooks will ever disappear and shall be replaced by some sort educationally designed software by a computer engineeer.. yes, educational technology is here to make education more appealing ,plasing to eye and satisfactory and more digestible to students..but, technology alone cannot do much....if students aren't cognitevely mature enough, studious, academically gifted and intrinsically /extrinsically motivated, they SHALL NOT LEARN...no matter how much technology we use. I mean, I had mentally retarded students that quit school halfway thorugh the term in the past..IT IS US and BOOKS SUPPLEMENTED WITH TECHNOLOGY to work wonders in education, I humbly reckon... Don't get me wrong, please...
    Thank you!

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  6. Students have NEVER used textbooks. Teachers use textbooks. And the more closed minded the teacher, the more strictly he or she will follow this textbook. I don't think textbooks will go away until the vast majority of teachers choose to come up with their own sequence, be willing to go out looking for examples, and in general be daring enough to try an "unproven," unprescribed lesson that may fall flat on it's face.

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  7. Textbooks can survive if they're reinvented. Check out what they're doing at www.schoolyourself.org!

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  8. I still remember the days of textbook buyback. That's just the way the world works. With new technology, old precedents sometimes become unnecessary.

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  9. Yes but great explanation about the textbook and i am new guy to this job thanks to sharing the wonderful articles.
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Please leave a comment. I enjoy the conversation.

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