Earlier this month, the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, proposed that Texas abandon using traditional textbooks in public schools and replace them with computer technology.
In the story, published by the Associated Press in newspapers across the country, Perry asked participants at a computer gaming education conference in Austin, “I don’t see any reason in the world why we need to have textbooks in Texas in the next four years. Do you agree?”
“Paper textbooks get out of date quickly,” Perry said, sometimes even before they reach the classroom. He noted that since he took office in 2000, some schools have used textbooks saying Ann Richards was governor. She served from 1991 to 1995. You can read the entire article here.
There is no question that authors can update electronic content faster than traditional textbooks. Indeed, by the time that a book is released for distribution, up to 18 months can have passed since the author wrote the material.
However, faster is not the equivalent of better. The Governor’s proposal removes a critical element of scholarship, and that is peer review, or refereeing.
When your child reads a traditional textbook, you can be sure that its content has passed strong scruitiny by expert reviewers. In most cases, at least three independent experts review the content of each book prior to publication. I know this because I have served as a reviewer for several publishing companies over the years, and my own co-authored book, Organizing Change, published by Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, underwent rigorous peer review.
If we allow authors to update their own material without subjecting those changes to referreed expert review, we are placing the quality of our children’s education in severe jeopardy. The entire purpose of having texts read by experts is to eliminate and correct factual errors before they reach the printed stage.
Two parallels come to mind. The first is the entire self-publishing industry, frequented by many of my colleagues who are members of the National Speakers Association. In order to get a book out quickly and effortlessly for back-of-the-room sales, they create their own work through a made-to-order publishing arm, using a process that bypasses refereeing. The second is Wikipedia, whose content is built by users, and whose corrections are formal and bureaucratic, but hardly scholastic in the tradition of academic review.
Maybe it is wrong that today’s students read that Ann Richards is Governor of Texas. But, the reality is that the history is true. She was the Governor of Texas. I would rather my children read accurate history than up-to-date fallacies.
Should this be an issue that affects his re-election at the polls? Do we really want a Governor who thinks that faster is better, and who is willing to sacrifice quality and accuracy for speed?
What about you? Send me a note so we can start some dialogue about it.