Textbooks Will Go the Way of the Yellow Pages

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. 


John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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