If you reside in the reality-based portions of the United States, you've probably looked on with amazement at the latest iteration of the regular battles over Texas textbooks. Briefly: because Texas is a huge market for textbooks, the standards the state's education board sets influence what books are sold across the country. And the current board is dominated not just by conservatives but by people who are, well, nuts.
As The Washington Post put it today, according to the changes they just adopted, "The curriculum plays down the role of Thomas Jefferson among the founding fathers, questions the separation of church and state, and claims that the U.S. government was infiltrated by Communists during the Cold War. ... Discussions ranged from whether President Reagan should get more attention (yes), whether hip-hop should be included as part of lessons on American culture (no), and whether President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis's inaugural address should be studied alongside Abraham Lincoln's (yes)."
The idea that standards for a large portion of America's schoolchildren should be written by this group of far-right ignoramuses is pretty appalling. But technology may soon offer a way out.
MacMillan recently introduced something called "Dynamic Textbooks," which are not only electronic but allow the authors to update them. They allow teachers using them to make changes, and allow students to write and share comments within them, in kind of a Textbooks 2.0 model. Other publishers are pushing their own electronic textbook formats. Whichever of those features become standard practice, I think it's safe to say that within a few years, your average high school student is going to have something like an iPad on her desk, instead of a stack of textbooks.
What does this have to do with the Texas Troglodytes? Well, when textbooks become electronic, the cost of producing multiple editions with different content drops dramatically. If Texas doesn't want to have a chapter about evolution, a few keystrokes will be all that's necessary to remove it from the texts that are beamed to their tablets. That doesn't help students in Texas escape the bozos who decide what's in their books, but at least they won't have the power to make kids outside their own borders dumber.
-- Paul Waldman
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