Consider that a divorce
The Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, back when he was but a humble Hollywood actor said to his wife (played by Sharon Stone in Total Recall) “consider that a divorce” and shot her, boom, kaput, dead. Now that he’s the Governor of California, he has affairs of state to consider. And he’s been reflecting recently on textbooks. You know, the sort of things kids use and learn from at school. Arnie is saying “consider that a divorce” to school textbooks and has announced his plan to terminate them.
Now, I have ranted before about the sorry state of education as I see it (and I have some expertise in this area being a Uni Adj Professor and having been a teacher). You can catch up on my rants here and here. But I didn’t realise that Arnie was such an authority on education – did I miss something? – has he been a teacher? For he says this:
“Kids, as you all know, today are very familiar with listening to their music digitally and online and to watch TV online, to watch movies online, to be on Twitter and participate in that and on Facebook. So basically kids are feeling so comfortable today, as a matter of fact, as comfortable with their cell phones and their keyboards as I did when I was your age, when I was a kid, with my pencils and crayons. So this is why I think it is so important that we move on from the textbooks. The textbooks are outdated as far as I’m concerned”.
Anyway, Arnie’s Digital Textbook Initiative, is clearly fueled by his need to slash California’s costs as the State is facing a budget gap of US $24.3 billion. The average textbook costs California around US $100 and in 2008 the State spent $350m on textbooks and can no longer afford it. Schwarzenegger believes initial savings from the plan will be between $300-400 million. In 2010, California high school students studying maths and science will be provided with access to online texts instead of the traditional printed textbook. California is the first US State to introduce such an initiative. But let’s not get carried away by Arnie’s rhetoric that kids have embraced new online technologies and so going digital is now the best way to learn in classrooms.
I hope he’s thought this through. I’m happy to offer The Governator some free advice:
- make sure you don’t simply convert textbooks to a digital format and leave it at that. Think about how to make the digital learning environment interactive, collaborative, fun. And you might have to train a few teachers whilst you’re at it. I would doubt that every teacher in California tweets or has a Facebook page, so you’ll need to think about how they’ll teach using digital media.
- consider California’s digital divide – around 75% of Californians report having computers and internet access at home, school or work – but just over half (55%) have internet access at home. Those from a Hispanic background report considerably less internet access (48%). Have you read the open letter to you from The Children’s Partnership? – which urges you to consider the School2Home initiative aimed at addressing the Digital Divide by getting computers and high-speed Internet access into the hands and homes of middle school students in underperforming schools throughout the state. An estimated 400,000 students and their parents in 539 underperforming middle schools would benefit from School2Home.
- are you going to provide every kid with a laptop? To get kids to do their homework (at home), you’ll need to provide the technology – how much is that going to cost?
- make sure you read reports on comprehension rates of digital versus traditional book. Go here Arnie for the New York Times article The Future of Reading Online, RU really reading? Or check out Nicholas Carr’s article in The Atlantic “Is Google Making us Stupid?“. Before you terminate textbooks, reflect on the words of a cognitive neuroscientist – “Reading a book, and taking the time to ruminate and make inferences and engage the imaginational processing, is more cognitively enriching, without doubt, than the short little bits that you might get if you’re into the 30-second digital mode”.
- check out the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus experiment. 27 seventh-graders were asked to look at the site and judge whether the information provided was trustworthy (this would involve critical thinking skills). Nearly 90% of them missed the joke and said the site was a reliable, trustworthy source and that the tree octopus (a fictional creature) exists.
It’s intriguing. I am probably reading more than I have ever read. Text messages, Twitter streams, hundreds of blogs, newspapers online and I design interactive modules for Uni students. But occasionally I wonder if I am merely skimming fragmented bits of information; if I am being given the time to pause, reflect, marinate, digest, interpret, consider and make the connections. Am I just hovering over the surface and not diving deep? I haven’t given up reading books that I can hold in my hands. I don’t think I ever could. I like to dog ear a page or write and draw in the margins. I like the linear, sequenced progression the printed page gives me.
Richard Foreman in an essay entitled “The Pancake People, Or, The Gods are Pounding my Head” made this powerful statement:
“I come from a tradition of Western culture in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality – a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West…..But today, I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self – evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available”. A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense culture inheritance – as we all become “pancake people” – spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button”.
Think about it Arnie. Do you want future generations of Californians to be “pancake people”?