Gallery D

The Printed Word

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Eliminating School Textbooks A Bad Idea

By James Donahue

Financially strapped school districts and colleges are turning to the electronic media in a quest to save money on published textbooks. Among the first books to go are those used in social studies, like history, government and sociology.

While it is true that the purchase of school textbooks has always been a costly part of getting an education, and turning to electronic text easily found on laptop computers appears to be a wise way to cut corners, the elimination of the published written word is a dangerous route for educators to be taking.

Books tend to last for centuries. The electronic word can be erased at the push of a button or an unexpected break in the electric circuit. It is true that modern computers are designed to save printed material, but computers are under constant hack attack. We have replaced several operating computers over the years because they simply went into self-destruct. On the old Macintosh systems we used to fear the so-called "blue screen of death." I had that happen to me once on a computer I was using at the White Mountain Independent, in Show Low, Arizona.

When it happens, everything stored in that computer is usually lost.

Published college level textbooks tend to offer relatively accurate information. The books for a particular class are usually carefully examined and selected by the professor assigned to teach the class. Also, since they are designated for school use, the material is carefully examined and refined by others before the books are put into print. Thus we can assume the relative accuracy of the work presented in these books.

This is not always true about printed material found on the Internet. While much of it is written by scholars, a lot of material is not. And it is sometimes difficult to determine the difference. If you search the web you will find that any writer offering a challenge to the "accepted" interpretation of fact quickly falls under attack.

This is one of the reasons the accuracy of the historical record of the human race is constantly in question. Facts get changed in even the published printed word for political, religious and social reasons. Therefore even a college level history class, using costly published text, can easy be feeding inaccurate information. Imagine the problems such a class might have is bound to utilize historical information found on Internet web sites.

As a case in point, notice the variations in the story involving the shooting death of Missouri teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. After a few days of reading all the different accounts, it is almost impossible to know what really happened. Even the witnesses have different stories.

Imagine the problems linked to getting to the truth behind U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Korea. The farther back into history we go, the more fog we find between the published record and what really happened. American historians tend to show the United States as the vanquished hero in these conflicts. We suspect that historians in Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Vietnam and China view events very differently.