Textbook-Free Campus; Fact-Free History, No Jobs

I have issues with textbook-free campuses, and so, it appears, does Jesse Jackson, Jr.

And some of our issues are the same. I too have wondered what happens to all the publishing houses, all the paper producers, the raw-material-providers, all the book binders, all the designers, all the office-workers, all the shipping and trucking jobs that disappear if campuses become “textbook free.”

I am also concerned about what happens to our understanding of the past — or even our present — when there are no solid, three-dimensional books with unchangeable, un-deletable, words inside them to which we can refer for facts, for history, for accurate remembrance.

Textbooks on iPads speak of a terrifying “efficiency” that I am not at all comfortable with. Digital words are so much easier to change — I have images of Winston Smith, rewriting history according to the day’s narratives, only he won’t be getting his orders via pneumatic tubes; he’ll just go to his email and find his “Ministry of Truth” or “MiniTru” assignments for the day — which could change hour-by-hour.

MiniTrue indeed. Can’t wait to see what sort of garbage a “digital textbook” will contain once people start fiddling with content in order to bring it in line with their ideologies. And you know that’s going to happen. It is inevitable.

Those of you who are considering replacing your libraries with ebooks; think again. Your books are yours; you buy them, you own them, and they are the same, yesterday and today. They will not change, and they will not disappear, or suddenly be “pulled” or “unsourced” from you, as ebooks can be. And someday you may NEED them, to show your children and your grandchildren what the realities of life, of war, of social upheaval really were, before the digital age.

There is something about the freedom to own books, and all of the words and ideas they contain, that goes hand-in-hand with what is Eternal and unchanging. New books may be produced with new ideas, but once written, they are part of something larger and connected to our inalienable rights — they can be accepted or rejected, loved or hated, embraced or discarded, but they will not be changed. A world where books become changeable things is a world where objective Truth cannot live; where “truth” becomes a relative, changeable thing and everything comes under the provenance of the air.

And the Prince of the power of the air, of course, loves chaos and sows confusion.

What a thing to think about, as we approach Pentecost Sunday, the day that Jesus breathed on the Apostles, and they received the Holy Spirit, who also moves on the air.

Here, perhaps, is our battlefield, then. The very air and all that moves upon it.

I’m no neo-Luddite; I know technology is a wonderful thing; I know it’s fun to consider that our books now look like Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s. But it’s all-too easy to see that there be monsters in our tumbling acquiescence into the digital page. A book is a stable, non-changeable thing. We need that stability.

There is no stability in an ebook; it can disappear in an instant. It can read differently, tomorrow.

Maybe it’s time to read 1984 again. And Animal Farm, too. And in book form, not on Kindle, or on an iPad, or a Nook!

Here’s Jesse Jackson, making his points in the video below, and then Renee Elmers, sent my way by Lorie Byrd.

I can’t take Jackson seriously when he chastises the congress on job-creation. The Democrats held congress from 2006 forward, and created not a single job, and it his his party and his president that have created onerous regulations that make it more difficult and more expensive for small businesses to hire workers.

Large businesses are hamstrung, too. You want to create jobs? How about let’s start drilling for oil in the Gulf, and in Alaska — how about building new refineries, so we can process that oil and stop living at the mercy of OPEC? How about building some nuclear power plants? All job-creators! Where are all those “shovel-read” infrastructural jobs? Why are we giving money to Brazil for oil drilling, or bailing out Greece, when we’re broke?

Jackson is doing the usual partisan-blame-gaming, here — he’s not offering a single job-creating thought, himself — but he’s quite right that iPad campuses will destroy jobs. They’ll destroy more than that. They have the potential to redefine the past and wholly affect the future.

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • kenneth

    Before we start lamenting the decline of public libraries, a little perspective is in order: In the poorest, most shabbily curated public library in America today, a kid with a library card has access to more works than any king or emperor in the ancient world, or for that matter, the high middle ages. The electronic devices most kids carry these days offer more computing power than was at the disposal of the entire U.S./British intelligence community during World War II. Yes, electronic media has many shortcomings, but if people are ignorant these days, it’s because they’re working hard to be so, not because of a failure of resources.

    And while we’re on the subject of mourning the old days of the library, nevermind the card catalog. Whatever happened to good old papyrus scrolls! The codex with it’s fancy lableled spine and random access convenience is for sissies! I miss Alexandria! Back then a scholar was a scholar, and the crazy unkempt dude washing himself in the sink was the head librarian or guest lecturer!

    For that matter, learning in some ways has gotten soft since the printed word. Back in the days of the druids, you didn’t do a google search or look in a book when you needed to cite case law from 100 years ago or some obscure quote from the poets. You went to someone who had spent 20 years memorizing every word of it down to the last syllable.

  • Joseph Marshall

    You are a collectivist, Joseph. I am not. You have faith in government power. I do not.

    That’s not quite accurate in my case, I think. Having faith in government power is like having faith in your car having an engine. By definition government is power. What I do have faith in is that all of us together can use the power of government to accomplish things for the common good. And, in a sense, I don’t have to have faith in it, since the libraries here, and, in fact, most of Columbus, is direct evidence of it.

    People here are proud of their libraries, proud of their little art museum, and proud, for that matter, of the college football and basketball teams. And this is the case no matter which party they favor.

    There are certain public ends which we can agree [and which we have agreed on in Columbus] are good in a non-partisan sense, even if we may differ on how to accomplish them. Ends like revitalizing worn out commercial strips on major traffic arteries. Which strips we do when and how we do it are always matters of contention. But nobody is of the opinion that we shouldn’t be doing it at all.

    It is a tribute to the fact that people don’t have to be alienated from their government and its politics, they can participate all the way down to neighborhood area commissions. And here they do. Quite vocally.

    And the axe cuts both ways. A couple of years back there was a mild uproar when the police chief happened to publicly mention what everybody took for granted, that no one was ever ticketed on Sunday for parking near their church.

    Everybody knew that the problem was not scofflawry, but a police chief who failed to engage his brain before putting his mouth in gear. It’s just the way we do it in Columbus.

    And we still do it. Every Sunday.

  • Joseph Marshall

    You went to someone who had spent 20 years memorizing every word of it down to the last syllable.

    I have studied for 25 years with such a man, who took his training in the Buddhist Monastic Colleges of old Tibet. And it is one of the reasons that the sectarian differences of Buddhism are barely visible compared to Christianity [or even Islam], despite the fact that the religion is a full 500 years older than Christianity.

    Of course there were books, in the traditional form of stacks of single long, narrow, horizontal pages that were originally written on palm leaves, and they were kept with utmost care, but that was not the point. My teacher knows the Dharma inside out and backward and forward in a way and to a degree that I have never seen anybody but a Tibetan monk know anything. Nothing even comes close. When a man knows something that well, you can rely on him to have the answers. Every time.

    In addition, at 88 he shows no signs of any sort of dementia whatever. It’s virtually unknown among the monks who trained that way.

    These are very distinct advantages and I am ever grateful to have been a student, even though in a very small way, of such a man.

    [How are you feeling, Joseph? You sound in fine fettle! -admin]

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    It is nice that things are so good in Columbus (at least according to you) Joseph.

    If what you’re saying is true, it sounds as if the citizens there have actually managed to keep government power working for them, rather than vis-versa.

    But Columbus isn’t the world.

    Like most collectivists, you worship power.

    But governments powerful enough to do things for their people are also powerful enough to oppress them, with no chance of redress, or opposition for their tyranny. Because, once the government gets that power, there’s no way it’s going to work with, or for, the people.

    Just take a look at the 20th Century: the Nazis, the Marxists, China’s Great Leap Forward, Pol Pot. . Governments have murdered millions of their own citizens.

    The Jews, and the Kulaks, had very little opportunity to participate in their own powerful governments.

    Collectivists worship power; that’s a problem.

    Kenneth, if you really do remember the libarary at Alexandria, or the Druids, all I can say is, you’re either awful dead, or awful old.

    Actually, some of the books there, whether they were on papyrus scrolls or not, might have been more educational than much of the stuff you can find in libraries today, i.e., best sellers, such as “Love’s Flaming Foibles”, rented out to little old ladies for 25-cents a day as was the case in one library where I used to work; a lot of older, “boring” books were, of course, consigned to the recycler (you didn’t think libraries did this?) in order to make room for the shiny new stuff.

    In that library, the crazy person dancing and singing in the library was—the head librarian herself. She was nuttier than the proverbial Christmas fruitcake, but could not be fired.

    In another library, one I used to frequent, though I didn’t work there, they threw out the card catalogue and installed a new computer system. In fact, they installed a new system every six months or so, because they could never get the previous ones to work.

    Then, after throwing tons of money at all these systems, they suddenly shut down, and were open only about three days a week.

    I suspext even the Druids could have managed better.

    Simply having tons of computing power at one’s disposal isn’t going to make one more educated. Education begins in your mind, not your modem. And having everyone get their information primarily from ebooks, with no source, or older reference documents to check them against—and which can be deleted, rewritten, etc., isn’t going to help anyone learn anything. (“Remember, that we have always been at war with Oceania. . . “)

  • Joseph Marshall

    The best example I know of the power of government in this country is the Interstate Highway System and other multi-lane limited access highways.

    The private sector did not do that, does not maintain it, does not repair it, and does not police it.

    I am old enough to have very early memories of when none of it was there. None of it. How far do you have to travel before you run into a limited access highway to use? How many times do you see it, hear it, drive on it, or read about it every day–from the morning traffic report forward?

    So many people act as if things like Interstate Highways are part of the Order of Nature, and just grew up like mushrooms.

    You don’t have to “worship” power to recognize that thousands of miles of Interstate Highways don’t do themselves, and without the legitimately applied power of government, they wouldn’t be there at all.

  • expat

    I love books and would hate to give up my personal library, but there are lots of people who don’t have access to good libraries and others who must move around and cannot afford to transport large numbers of books. I know quite a few people spending a year or two abroad with their families. For them, it is wonderful to be able to download classics for their kids. I also know people who travel a lot for work, and they report that they tend to read more because it’s so easy to pull out a reader when they are stuck at an airport or they are suffering from a bit of time zone insomnia in a hotel room.

    Another feature is that people can access so many classics for free. Even kid may be more inclined to investigate them if they don’t have to sacrifice their entire allowance for the complete works of Jane Austen or Mark Twain.

    I think things will work themselves out eventually. Publishers and printers will devise ways of keeping paper books available with new just-in-time printing techniques, and readers will learn to distinguish which books belong on their shelves.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    The public roads are very good, Joseph.

    Roads, along with defending its citizens, both against foreign enemies, and domestic criminals, are among the things I think governments should do.

    The rest of it, they should stay out of. That’s giving them too much power.

    I fear ebooks are going to prove irresistible to them; they won’t be able to resist rewriting them, or even deleting some of them altogether.

  • Andy

    Dear RS
    According to eASCE our infrastructure gets a grade of D – that includes roads which received a D-
    I find it interesting that you would say that collectivists worship power. This might mean one of a couple of things – that the Catholic church as a collection of people worships power? Or that the leaders of the church worship power. I fail to see how seeing that people are interdependent means that collectivists worship power.
    Your fear of the government is almost overwhelming. To distrust at that level must be painful. I think that it is the people who allow the government to do what it does. In that sense we need an educated populace to prevent that. I think that if we look carefully at what the putative conservatives are pushing as educational reform is not reform; it is an attempt to limit what the people know and can do. E-books may or may not be a symptom of that desire.
    As a college professor I know full well the cost of textbooks and know how little it takes to create a new edition – changing about 12% of the book does this. I also know how outdated the books are when my students get them. E-books may eliminate some of this. However, the joy of holding a book in your hands may be lost as will the magic of having the books. I am of two minds about this and unfortunately neither side seems to be talking – much like our current mess in Washington.
    My few thoughts.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Uh-huh, uh-huh, so let’s all stop worrying, and love the government—and pick up your E-books, today! They’re up to date, unlike those bad, old-fashioned books! Read them, and don’t worry that anyone might have been tampering with them!

    (Okay, sarc. off.)

    Actually, Andy, I’m not uncomfortable with distrusting the government at all, given the history of the 20th Century, which you, as a college professor, should be familiar with.

    I see I struck a nerve, though, by saying this; your own fear of people criticizing the powers that be must be something pretty darn painful! (As well as your fear of conservatives, who are supposedly out to get education.)

    People being interdependent, and people relying on a powerful government to supply all their needs, are really not the same things. In fact, the latter tends to subvert the former, as people take the attitude that, “The government will take care of it; I don’t have to do anything for my neighbors, or for charity.”

    By the way—nice dig at the Catholic church, which, as I recall, wasn’t the sub ject being discussed here, but I guess any excuse will do.

    For the record, I’m not Catholic myself, but I have no problems with Catholicism, and no desire to tell Catholics what they should believe, or how they should run their own church.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And I do think history shows that collectivists, whatever high ideals they start out with, do end up pretty much putting their faith in power, rather than their citizens.

  • Will

    Many books I have read are apparently available only in paper. I had a friend check on his e-reader (not sure the brand) last year and few books were available of the mystery series I have read by Paul Doherty, a British author.

  • http://www.manlymen.org Tony

    I come at this from the completely opposite viewpoint. Rather than “Animal Farm” or “1985″, I’m thinking about “Farenheit 451″. There may come a time when the government comes after our books. When they do, the idea of having the entire library of congress on a jump drive around my neck seems pretty attractive.

    What has to happen is a commonly used, open source, eBook format that contains digital signing with public key encryption. Then you could tell if a digital volume was altered or not.

    My daughters are in college and the idea of having to spend almost $200 for a book that were it a novel would cost a tenth of the price makes me want to hurl. Textbook publishers are reaping the rewards of their own greed.

  • andy

    RS
    Actually you didn’t strike a nerve about people being critical of power – be as critical as you want – just base your critical comments on the widest range of views, not a narrow and limited set of viewpoints. That is what being educated is about – not agreeing with a view point but being able to explain it fully so you know why you disagree with it. I have read both sides of the collectivist argument and find it interesting that collectivism has replaced socialism and communism as the latest -ism to be afraid of. I would guess that any group can start out with high ideals can put their faith in power – collectivists, individualists, the list goes on. My point is that collectivists are people, individualists are people, we are all social people as well and look to groups to find our identities and support for our beliefs. We also as people attempt to promulgate what we believe as being the best. When we think something is the best it becomes a power game.

    My “dig” as you call it about the Catholic Church was not a dig at it at all. It was more of a comment that all groups are prone to want power. The libertarian party preamble outlines the party’s goal: “As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” Its Statement of Principles begins: “We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.” I guess the individual is sacrosanct until my freedoms interfere with your freedoms and the…? Who determines what set of rights is most important? A collective decision is made?

    I don’t fear conservatives as being out to get education – I fear that people of all stripes are not willing to put in the time to get an education – conservative and liberal or whatever way of dividing people you want. What the conservatives seem to be pushing is not thinking, it is memorizing – look at the way we measure learning – short answer types of tests, or restricted response tests, which do not tell me much about learning, but tell me you can memorize. I don’t fear people tampering with e-books any more than I fear people writing a book with false or unverifiable information. I fear when people accept what is written as being the truth – and do not think about what it means to them or others. There are many ways of controlling what is in a book – look at Texas and their “standards” for textbooks – what they demand to be left out and what they demand to be included – this will happen as an economic reality for textbook companies. The same is true of e-books – there are many ways to control them. Again it depends on the reader to recognize what seems logical and correct and what seems illogical and incorrect. Learning is the ability to sort out among varying beliefs what is good and what is right. Perhaps e-books as they may cost less might support this idea.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Sure, Andy, I didn’t strike a nerve.

    That’s why you’re going to all this trouble to lecture me on how I should, I really should, base my opinions on a wider range of views (ones more acceptable to you?), and all groups want power, etc., etc., etc.

    /Sarc.

    I base my observations on power, and governments, as I said before, on my observation of tyrannies in the 20th Century.

    As for which rights should prevail, I favor the point of view, along with the Founding Fathers, that certain rights are God-given, and inalienable, and, no, they can’t rightly be dismissed by a collective vote. Such collective “rights” really aren’t worth the proclamations they’re printed on, as the Jews of Germany, and the Kulaks of Russia, could tell you.

    P.S. Having good source material, with which to check, and double-check, the material in e-books, is a good way to recognize when they’re illogical and downright wrong. In our case, that means yeah, it’s a good idea to hold on to our old printed material, which can’t be digitally altered, or erased.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Tony, I believe you’re on to something. . . but, sadly, if the government starts going after our books, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll already have sewed up the internet, so that the “bad” books can’t be distributed. And they’ll be making careful notes of all those who sign into such “bad book” sites; encryption can always be broken. . .

  • Andy

    RS
    I think the nerve that was struck was your because I was not being sarcastic – i tried to explain my beliefs – I think that the nerve that is struck is yours when someone disagrees with you or perhaps when you feel threatened or your point of view feels threatened. Reducing your comments to sarcasm really dilutes what you say and makes it frivolous. As far as lectures go read some of your own.

  • Joseph Marshall

    [How are you feeling, Joseph? You sound in fine fettle! -admin]

    I’ve had a pretty good Spring, Elizabeth. My garden is full of wave upon wave upon wave of Easy Wave Petunias, my medications seem well tweaked, my more isolated and intensive new practice makes me happier than I can ever express. and the departure of Osama Bin Laden has taken a great weight off the heart of the world, including my own.

    According to eASCE our infrastructure gets a grade of D – that includes roads which received a D-

    Well Andy, I would ask compared to whom? Germany has a lot better roads, but a lot fewer miles of them. I suspect that when compared to a country of any considerable size in land area–India, China, Russia, Brazil, Australia, Canada–we don’t fare so badly.

    if the government starts going after our books

    Rhinestone, you really have no comprehension of what it would take for your frightening fantasy to come true. The sheer number of books already out there is America is beyond control and almost beyond comprehension. Not to mention the sheer number of privately owned firearms.

    We don’t just have one “government”. Each of us personally has at least 3 of them, and they all have separated powers that check and balance each other. And, in case you haven’t noticed, some of the smaller ones are going in a far different direction than the largest one. Or trying to.

    This country was built to last, and there are over 300 million people in it. Virtually all of this would have to break down at once, and nearly instantly, for any of your totalitarian nightmares to come true. And even China, which started from a near monolithic totalitarianism, can’t truly hide from what goes on elsewhere now. Money brings news and not just the government’s “good news”. And the Chinese are rolling in money. Despite the very best efforts of China [and Microsoft] the Great Firewall of China is hardly an overwhelming success. Nowhere near like the Iron Curtain of old.

    Nobody can hide the rest of the world or the rest of the story anymore from anyone–not China, not Baharain, not Saudi, not Iran, not Syria, not anyone. And most certainly not any of the scores of “governments” which we have here.

    Roads, along with defending its citizens, both against foreign enemies, and domestic criminals, are among the things I think governments should do.

    But we shouldn’t have to pay taxes or accommodate to one another for it to get done. Right? This is the Libertarian fantasy–Complete Freedom and the converse is the Totalitarian Nightmare–Big Brother.

    Neither are real possibilities any more. Governments can oppress, but nobody can oppress in the way and to the degree that Josef Stalin could oppress. People can be free, but nobody can be free in the way Daniel Boone was free, or Simon Girty for that matter.

    1984 has come and gone and the world has become a place where everybody is in it together, nobody is going anywhere else, and we all have to get used to those facts.

    It’s scary. In some ways its scarier than Totalitarianism. But we do have to get used to it.

  • craig

    @Rhinestone Suderman
    I think tony is right, you think far to highly of governments ability to wield its power if you believe they could successfully lock of eBook distribution, encrypted p2p distribution is v. difficult to catch and even if you do you’ll only have on node of thousands.

    They could stop all p2p but that would just lead to encryption being used to hide it in other traffic.

    They could take down sites but a p2p domain system and shadownets are already on the way or in existence these would only become more popular if they tried (look at Iran).

  • Joseph Marshall

    I also know how outdated the books are when my students get them. E-books may eliminate some of this. However, the joy of holding a book in your hands may be lost as will the magic of having the books.

    Andy, I would be curious to know just what you teach. The same for Joe a long ways above. I’m an ex-Pro myself [Art History] and we seem to have far less reliance on “textbooks” than nearly everybody else–probably because you can only cram so many pictures into any book.

    There are now so many alternatives out there, including setting up a website for each one of your classes [a luxury I didn't have] that I see no reason why most college classes [particularly in the Liberal Arts] could not dispense with textbooks in favor of having students buy a couple of primary sources [books worth paying for and keeping] and reading the rest from library resources, either digital or analog.

    The thing that struck me about overpriced textbooks when I was on duty was how little professors who assigned them actually made use of them. I taught Art Appreciation, the most basic starting point for any student interest, scholarly or not, and I HAD to have some sort of simple narrative history and lots of illustrations in the form of a textbook. I showed plenty of other pictures in the form of slides, and lectured extensively, as well.

    Any study of the arts requires a lot of straight recognition memory to identify and name specific artists and artworks. There were far more pictures in that textbook than any test, or all the tests together, could use. It wouldn’t work for more serious study, but for non-professional beginners, it worked very well to confine the picture recognitions to be memorized to the photographs in the text and to tell the students so.

    The student forked out a good sum of money, but they got what really makes a textbook worth anything–the convenience of being able to study it on their own time schedule with the assurance that such study would pay off. And, of course, they could sell them back for % of retail. On those terms, I never had a student complain about the price of the textbook.

    It seems to me that it should be the professor’s business to insure that anything that is bought by the student truly pays off in genuine convenience for study. If you can’t get a textbook to do that, or if the price is not worth any level of convenience, you shouldn’t have students purchase one. Let them buy a couple of primary sources [which are usually a whole lot cheaper] and do the rest through the wonderful options of a well-stocked library, and the new alternatives in the virtual world.

    Under those conditions nothing will prevent them from learning to enjoy and appreciate books.

  • http://rightasusual.blogspot.com LindaF

    I have a Kindle, and I have books – there is a place for both.

    I have been putting my many technical manuals and teacher reference guides on the Kindle – very handy.

    I do tend to use the Kindle more for fiction at this point. But, I’m open to putting texts on it, as well.

    Just today, I blogged about the potential for the Kindle in spreading Christianity – I have many of the texts of the Fathers of the Church, as well as a digital edition of the Bible.

    http://rightasusual.blogspot.com/2011/06/will-kindle-make-difference-in-spread.html

    Instead of lugging Bibles across the border, just move the file – through email, Internet download, flash drive, etc. The user can upload the file to their Kindle or computer, and read away.

  • andy

    Joseph Marshall
    I am one of those least favored professors – i help gain the skills to work with students and adults with disabilities – I am an education professor. For most of my courses I have no textbooks because they are outdated by the time the students get them. The problem with having students find materials or having the instructor find them and distribute them to students in some fashion – pdf, or via website is that more and more journals are embargoing materials for 12-15 months. It becomes a catch-22. That is why I have some small hope for e-books.
    The price of the textbooks to me is a concern because of the institution where I teach. About 35-40% of our students are first generation college students. About 30% come from families struggling at the poverty level, and about 40% are students who struggled in high school for a variety of reasons. The may not know how to use a textbook as a resource. For many the idea of reading a true resource is scary as hell. The cost of the textbooks scares the students and puts a strain on their lives. When I taught at a state university and at a different private institution textbook cost was a complaint but not a worry.
    As far as your other question about the infrastructure – there was no comparison provided – the study looked at usage and designed for usage; deterioration; money spent for upkeep and the like. I think my response is more about how we might “jump start” the economy – rebuilding the infrastructure through public-private consortiums would provide jobs and income, which would stimulate demand and the loop starts again.
    Thank you for your reasoned responses.


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